At a glance.
- Rulings on Section 230 cases support its existence.
- Montana faces first legal challenge for TikTok ban.
- New bill calls for DHS to report on cyber harassment.
- FBI accused of abusing intelligence database.
- Meta receives largest GDPR fine in history.
Rulings on Section 230 cases support its existence.
The US Supreme Court has been considering two cases regarding online platforms and the content they post: Gonzalez v. Google, and Twitter v. Taamneh. The cases were very similar: terrorist organizations with social media presences carried out attacks overseas, and a victim’s family sued the platforms for spreading the terrorists’ rhetoric. As well, both cases raised questions about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a liability shield which frees internet companies of any culpability for transmitting content posted by others (though only Gonzales technically focused on 230), and opponents and supporters of 230 alike have been awaiting the verdicts, as they were anticipated to shed light on whether Section 230 might be reversed. The long-awaited verdicts are in, but unfortunately for Section 230 debaters, the judges determined that neither case requires a decision on whether the liability shield should be overturned. A three-page per in Gonzalez states, “based on our ruling in Taamneh, there’s no underlying cause of action in Gonzales, and therefore, we don’t have to even touch the Section 230 issue.” Those in support of 230 can rest knowing that it has been preserved for now. As Techdirt notes, in the ruling for the Taamneh case, Justice Clarence Thomas explains why the standards for holding online platforms responsible for user content are so high: “Importantly, the concept of 'helping' in the commission of a crime—or a tort—has never been boundless. That is because, if it were, aiding-and-abetting liability could sweep in innocent bystanders as well as those who gave only tangential assistance.”
Montana faces first legal challenge for TikTok ban.
Last Wednesday Montana became the first US state to approve a blanket ban of popular Chinese-owned video-streaming app TikTok, but the company and opponents of the measure predicted that legal challenges would be just around the corner. It didn’t take long for their predictions to come true. A group of Montana TikTok users have filed a lawsuit stating that the ban violates their First Amendment rights and that the measure exceeds Montana’s legal authority. The suit states that Montana “can no more ban its residents from viewing or posting to TikTok than it could ban The Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes.” And free speech advocates say TikTok will likely come forward with its own lawsuit as well. Ramya Krishnan, a lawyer at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told the New York Times, “I don’t think TikTok has yet committed to suing, but I think it’s likely that it will. Because this is such a dramatic and unconstitutional incursion into the First Amendment rights of Americans, we are certainly thinking through the possibility of getting involved in some way.”
New bill calls for DHS to report on cyber harassment.
Two US lawmakers have introduced a bill that would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responsibility for tracking incidents of where foreign entities carry out doxing and other cyber harassment against Americans. SC Media reports that Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (A Democrat of Florida) and Don Bacon (Republican of Nebraska) are responsible for the bipartisan measure, which already has twenty-seven Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. DHS would be called to report to Congress on the cyber harassment techniques used by foreign malign actors, as well as the vulnerabilities that could be exploited by such actors. Wasserman Schultz stated, “Extremists are exploiting our online platforms to spread private information and incite violence against vulnerable individuals and groups. Arming our national security officials and law enforcement with knowledge of how these groups operate and for identifying vulnerabilities and preventing attacks is a first step to protect our communities from harm.”
FBI accused of abusing intelligence database.
A court order released Friday accuses the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of 278,000 incidents of misuse of an intelligence database in investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol and racial justice protests after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Reuters reports. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the FBI also used the database to search for American donors to a campaign for an unnamed congressional candidate. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decision, which was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, states there was "no reasonable basis to expect they would return foreign intelligence or evidence of crime." However, as AP News explains, the FBI says the violations predated a series of corrective measures and therefore were not considered misuse of the database at the time. The revelations raise further questions about Section 720, the much-debated surveillance program that allows the government the right to warrantless searches of the communications of foreigners abroad who are targeted for intelligence purposes. As the New York Times notes, Section 720 is due to expire at the end of the year, and the court order is likely to give critics of the program even more ammunition in fighting the Biden administration’s efforts to renew it. Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, stated, “Today’s disclosures underscore the need for Congress to rein in the FBI’s egregious abuses of this law, including warrantless searches using the names of people who donated to a congressional candidate. These unlawful searches undermine our core constitutional rights and threaten the bedrock of our democracy. It’s clear the FBI can’t be left to police itself.”
Meta receives largest GDPR fine in history.
The EU today hit Facebook owner Meta with a privacy fine of $1.3 billion – the largest penalty ever enacted by regulators since the creation of the General Data Protection Regulation – for transferring personal user data overseas. The tech giant was also ordered to stop the data transfer by October, AP News reports. Meta says it plans to appeal and ask courts to put the decision on hold. The decision is referencing user data Meta and other companies like Google use to craft targeted online ads. Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, and chief legal officer Jennifer Newstead issued a statement saying, “This decision is flawed, unjustified and sets a dangerous precedent for the countless other companies transferring data between the EU and US.” As the Wall Street Journal notes, the steep penalty increases pressure on the US to reach a deal that would allow multinational companies like Meta to continue transferring data to the states since the EU in 2020 overturned a previous data-sharing agreement. Tom Kellermann, SVP of Cyber Strategy at Contrast Security, commented: "This is the most severe fine issued under a GDPR violation. Meta should learn that privacy cannot exist without robust cybersecurity. That being said - The ghost of Snowden lingers."