Lawmakers hit Trump administration for including tech legal shield in trade negotiations
Bipartisan lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday hit the Trump administration for including language from legal liability protections for internet companies in trade negotiations.
The protections from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives platforms legal immunity for content posted by third-party users while also giving them legal cover to take good-faith efforts to moderate their platforms, have been included in some way in both the U.S-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and pact with Japan signed earlier this month.
“I want to talk a bit about injecting 230 intro trade agreements,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said during a hearing Wednesday. “It seems to me that we’ve already seen that now in the Japan trade agreement and there is a real push to include that now in the [USMCA]. There is no place for that.”
“I think that laws in these other countries don’t really accommodate what the United States has done about 230 ... it is just inappropriate right now to insert this liability protection into trade agreements, and as a member of the working group that is helping to negotiate that agreement, I am pushing hard to make sure that it just isn’t there.”
Committee chairman Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said he was “disappointed” U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer refused to participate in Wednesday’s hearing.
“Ranking Member Walden and I wrote to the Ambassador in August raising concerns about why the USTR has included this language in trade deals as we debate them across the nation, and I was hoping to hear his perspective on why he believes that is appropriate,” Pallone said.
“Including provisions in trade agreements that are controversial to both Republicans and Democrats is not the way to get support from Congress. Hopefully, Ambassador Lighthizer will be more responsive to bipartisan requests in the future.”
The Hill has reached out to Lighthizer’s office for comment on his refusal to participate in the hearing.
Ranking member Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said that Lighthizer should “consult our committee in advance of negotiating” on internet policy in trade discussions.
“The USTR does not appear to be reflecting the scrutiny the Administration itself is applying to how CDA 230 is being utilized in American society, making it even more alarming for the USTR to be exporting such policies without the involvement of this committee,” he added.
The protections from Section 230 remain in the USMCA, which is currently awaiting congressional approval.
The lawmakers’ remarks on the inclusion of the legal liability protection in free trade agreements came during a hearing on what to do with the 1990s law.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have increasingly called for amending or even gutting Section 230 as Silicon Valley has fallen out of favor with Washington.
Is this potentially a good thing for hosting companies or a bad thing or won't have much impact at all?