DOJ to propose limiting Internet firms’ protections

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order that sought to target the legal protections of social media companies, responding to concerns among some conservatives about alleged online censorship by the platforms. The executive order sought to impose limits on legal immunity for social-media firms when they are deemed to unfairly curb users’ speech, for instance by deleting their posts or suspending their accounts

The legislative changes to be proposed by the Justice Department address some of the same types of concerns, but also extend more broadly, seeking to strip civil immunity afforded to tech firms in a range of other circumstances, the administration official said.

The department’s proposal, for instance, would remove legal protections when platforms facilitate or solicit third-party content or activity that violates federal criminal law, such as online scams and trafficking in illicit drugs. The department also wouldn’t confer immunity to platforms in instances involving online child exploitation and sexual abuse, terrorism or cyberstalking. Those carve-outs are needed to curtail immunity for internet companies to allow victims to seek redress, the official said.

The Justice Department also will seek to make clear that tech platforms don’t have immunity in civil enforcement actions brought by the federal government, and can’t use immunity as a defense against antitrust claims that they removed content for anticompetitive reasons.