Panelists Recommend More Concentrated Focus on Federal Privacy Legislation

The federal parties have opposite aims as to what to do about Section 230.

Panelists Recommend More Concentrated Focus on Federal Privacy Legislation
Photo of Discord CEO Jason Citron at the Wednesday hearing

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2023 – The party stalemate on addressing Section 230 concerns in Washington gives lawmakers an opportunity to focus on crafting federal privacy legislation, according to panelists at Broadband Breakfast’s Big Tech and Speech Summit on Thursday.

The Democrats and the Republicans have taken opposite positions on what to do with the liability provision under the Communications Decency Act, which shields technology platforms from the legal consequences of what their users post. That division – to allow more or less content moderation on platforms – coupled with the Republicans taking back the House, means the issue may not be resolved in a timely manner – if ever.

That’s why a focus on federal privacy legislation should grip lawmakers to avoid the negative effects of a patchwork of different state laws with different interpretations of privacy, according to panelists at the event Thursday.

Photo of Subcommittee Chair Gus Bilirakis at Big Tech & Speech Summit Thursday by Tim Su

“You cannot have 50 different regimes to manage the privacy and data breach regulations of the companies,” said Steve DelBianco, president and CEO of NetChoice, a trade association for free speech and enterprise. “I am not so worried about Section 230 because the two parties that run this country have completely opposite aims in mind for 230.” NetChoice has been one of the main opponents to social media laws in Florida and Texas that would restrict certain moderation practices by tech platforms.

Dane Snowden, senior advisor at telecom law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer, also noted that there’s no common definition of the Section 230 problem. “The challenge that we have right now is there’s not a common definition of the problem that you’re trying to fix…until you have that, you’re going to have both parties going in opposite directions on 230.

“I think privacy is the number one thing we should focus on – we need to have a national privacy framework.” Snowden illustrated the problem by using the example of a product that must go through multiple jurisdictions to get to its destination. He said this is unfeasible when those jurisdictions have different laws.

But Eli Noam, the director of Columbia University’s Institute for Tele-Information – who gave a keynote speech on the use of artificial intelligence for the metaverse – said there may be some upside with state privacy laws because it would allow them to explore and experiment on privacy rules.

On Section 230, Amy Peikoff, head of policy and legal of social media company Parler, noted she’s glad there’s a stalemate because she said “any amendment that would come forth right now would make it worse.”

Earlier this month, members of the House Innovation, Data and Commerce subcommittee reiterated their support for a federal privacy legislation and discussed how to build on the previously introduced American Data Privacy and Protection Act before the midterm-induced turnover in Congress.

The ADPPA addressed algorithmic bias testing, limits on targeted advertising to kids and a pre-emption provision that would allow the federal law to usurp state law.

Subcommittee Chair Gus Bilirakis opened the summit with remarks about the need to amend Section 230 to address problems associated with kids’ use of social media, including suicidal ideations.

Big Tech & Speech Summit
At the intersection of content moderation and political power.