WASHINGTON — Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal accusing big tech of being protected by Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act and using such protections to suppress ‘liberty’ and ‘free speech.’
In the op-ed, Hagerty announced the introduction of the 21st Century Foundation for the Right to Express and Engage in Speech Act (21st Century FREE Speech Act). Beyond offering a long-ass title, the proposal intends to replace Section 230 immunity protections from the actions of third-party uploads and users. The proposal would completely replace the existing regulatory framework, which would drastically alter the nature of online communication and speech on the internet.
“The 21st Century FREE Speech Act would abolish Section 230 in favor of a liability protection framework that marries that section’s original intent with the practical implications of the enormous technological change that has ensued over the past 25 years,” said Hagerty in his column, adding that large technology companies are creating a “totalitarian” state of being.
The Act would have the government regulate internet companies like ‘common carriers.’ A common carrier, in terms of common law, is often referred to as a public telecom or a utility firm. That means that the legislation would classify a company like Google or Facebook as such.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to overturn a 2015 order that classified internet service providers (ISPs) as ‘common carriers,’ that provide a ‘telecommunications service.” That was done by a Republican-led FCC.
Hagerty’s notion of regulating internet service providers as common carriers is one that has often been proposed by anti-tech conservatives and progressives wanting to control the activities of these companies. While such efforts may be well-intended, they often miss the entire point of why Section 230 is an important law protecting a free and open internet. Hagerty’s attempt is no different.