Reddit, Google to testify before House panel on tech's legal protections

Reddit, Google to testify before House panel on tech's legal protections
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The co-founder and CEO of Reddit and a top policy official with Google are slated to testify next week before a key House panel about the tech industry's legal protections, the committee announced Friday.

The public hearing scheduled for Wednesday marks the latest sign that the House Energy and Commerce Committee is seriously looking at the possibility of tweaking or even partially pulling back the industry's liability shield. 

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Reddit chief Steve Huffman will testify at the hearing alongside Katherine Oyama, Google's global head of intellectual property policy, as well as leading experts on the law that protects tech — including Danielle Citron, a law professor at Boston University School of Law, and Corynne McSherry, the legal director of top privacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced their intention to hold the hearing last month. 

“The Internet has opened America’s homes to a wealth of social, economic and educational opportunities," Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) said in a joint statement with the heads of the committee's panels on technology and consumer protection. "Sadly, bad actors, both foreign and domestic, have abused this access to peddle extremism, disinformation and hatred that divides our nation."

At issue is a provision called Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects internet platforms from being sued over content posted by users and how it chooses to moderate those user-generated posts.

Increasingly, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in both chambers have hammered Section 230 as a "sweetheart deal" that protects Big Tech from dealing with issues on their platforms including hate speech, terrorist content and disinformation. 

While several federal lawmakers have floated changes to Section 230 over the past several months, there are still no bipartisan or bicameral proposals on the table. 

In early 2018, Congress passed legislation amending Section 230 to create an exception for sex trafficking, making it easier to target websites with legal action for enabling such crimes. There has not been a significant proposed change to Section 230 since then. 

But the Energy and Commerce Committee has primary jurisdiction over Section 230, and over the past several months, top members of the panel have expressed interest in various proposals to hold platforms "accountable" for their content moderation decisions.  

“This hearing will explore whether online companies are appropriately using the tools they have — including protections Congress granted in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — to foster a healthier Internet," Pallone said in the statement with Reps. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHillicon Valley: Trump turns up heat on Apple over gunman's phone | Mnuchin says Huawei won't be 'chess piece' in trade talks | Dems seek briefing on Iranian cyber threats | Buttigieg loses cyber chief House Democrats request briefings on Iranian cyber threats from DHS, FCC Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Facebook deepfake ban falls short | House passes bills to win 5G race | Feds sound alarm on cyberthreat from Iran | Ivanka Trump appearance at tech show sparks backlash MORE (D-Pa.) and Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyHouse Democrats may call new impeachment witnesses if Senate doesn't Lawmaker calls for hearing into MLB cheating scandal Big Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat MORE (D-Ill.)