One bit of background first. I've written repeatedly over the years about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. It provides powerful legal protections for owners of sites like this one, saying that when it comes to defamatory (or otherwise offensive) posts you make on someone else's site, the site owner's not liable -- just you. You can imagine how many letters I've gotten to send on Markos' behalf which thanks to Section 230 reduce down to telling some gnat that he's "f'ed on owner liability," and any day of the year that ends things.
Onto Lieberman. Via the McIntyre-v-Ohio website, which is dedicated to anonymous speech issues, I've learned that Sen. Lieberman plans to introduce a bill this week to strip site owners of Section 230 protections for the posts of anonymous commenters. Here's the text.
Lieberman's bill would end the Internet as we know it. By a simple change from "shall" to "may," Lieberman will empower a Republican-dominated federal judiciary to decide on whim and caprice which site owners are protected from liability their commenters' actions, and who faces potentially massive judgments.
As chair of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, has been on this topic for some time, often under the rubric of "cybersecurity". Remember his efforts to kill the Taliban Twitter feed late last year? (Maybe he feels burned by Tim Tagaris.) But it's one thing to target terrorists carefully; it's another to decide that the response is to turn all website owners into arms of the state.
From my perspective, given Lieberman's bipartisan popularity (and that it's his committee), the best we can hope for is embedding some kind of "safe harbor" protection akin to what exists under the DMCA: as long as a site owner (a) tracks users' true identities, (b) deletes offensive comments and diaries upon request, and (c) provides verifiable identifying information of the poster in question to any offended party or government agency, then immunity would be restored. I'm reaching out to Judiciary staffers, and will keep you updated.
Do watch this space for further developments.
Updated, April 2, 2012, 7:35 am: Um, guys: you been took. Really, I post a story about Joe Lieberman going after the Internet on April Fools' Day, and almost no one raises a serious eyebrow? In the words of Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers, seriously? Did no one notice that the first letter of each paragraph of this diary spells out "F-O-O-L A-F-D," that the bill's acronym is the "Accountability for Free Discussion Act," or that my summary my email on Markos' behalf also spelled out "f'ed on owner liability"? Or that I featured a picture of Joe Lieberman laughing at you?
[Oh, shayera, you came so close to spoiling it for everyone.]
As prank coordinator Eric Turkewitz explains, "[B]efore any of you get angry at me or my co-conspirators listed below, remember this: Each of the authors participated because we feel strongly about protecting the First Amendment. (I’ve twice defended defamation claims, one in the past and one currently.) So while you may have been fooled for a few hours, or even angered, you should know that those who did the fooling are your teammates in vigilance against those that wish to encroach on our rights to speak freely. Most of the jokesters are lawyers. We get it."
Remember: just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean it's true. Be vigilant and skeptical every day, but especially on April 1. And please continue to REC this diary so that the reveal will be as prominent as the hoax. Thanks.