Mississippi Attorney General's Office

05/23/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/23/2019 13:10

AG Jim Hood Asks Congress to Hold Internet Service Providers Accountable, Ensure States Maintain Right to Stop Criminal Violations of State Law

May 23, 2019

Attorney General Jim Hood led 46 AGs across the country this week to ask Congress, again, to amend the Communications Decency Act in order to make sure state and local authorities are able to protect our citizens online and take appropriate action against criminal actors.

The Communication Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) was designed to encourage the growth of the internet by promoting free expression, particularly on online message boards. The Act was intended to allow companies who sponsor message boards to remain immune to repercussions from inappropriate posts, but, due to a misinterpretation of Section 230 of the Act, some federal court opinions have interpreted it so broadly that individuals and services, which knowingly aid and profit from illegal activity, have evaded prosecution.

'Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act' and 'Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act' (known as FOSTA-SESTA) was signed into law in 2018, making clear that the CDA's immunity does not apply to enforcement of federal or state sex trafficking laws. Unfortunately, the abuse on these platforms does not stop at sex trafficking, but includes all sorts of harmful illegal activity such as online black market opioid sales, identity theft, and election meddling.

Section 230 expressly exempts prosecution of federal crimes from the safe harbor, but 'addressing criminal activity cannot be relegated to federal enforcement alone simply because the activity occurs online,' the letter states. 'Attorneys General must be allowed to address these crimes themselves and fulfill our primary mandate to protect our citizens and enforce their rights.'

This is not the first time attorneys general have addressed this issue with Congress. In 2013 and 2017, nearly every state and territory AG wrote to inform Congress of the damaging misinterpretation and misapplication of Section 230 of the CDA.

'The internet is a great resource for many things; unfortunately, it's also a very dangerous place where predators can easily hide,' General Hood said. 'Our investigators work hard to track down child pornographers and criminals taking your identity. Now, we need Congress to make it abundantly clear that these providers are accountable for allowing illegal activity on their platforms. No amount of money or power should allow Big Tech to be immune from prosecution for turning a blind eye or facilitating egregious harms to our communities, and state and local law enforcement should be empowered by Congress and our courts to enforce state criminal laws on the internet just as we do on the streets.'

In addition to Mississippi, the following states joined the letter: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.