Justice Department plans to hold meeting to discuss law crucial to protecting Big Tech


William Barr, U.S. attorney general, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The U.S. Justice Department is planning to hold a conference to discuss the future of a current federal law which largely exempts online platforms from legal liability for the material their users post, sources familiar with the plans said on Friday.

A U.S. government source said the department plans to invite a wide range of interested parties to the conference to examine the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, including representatives of industry, Congress, “thought leaders” and officials of President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

Any changes to the law could have implications for companies such as Facebook, Alphabet‘s Google and Twitter which publish large amounts of user content with only limited ability to monitor it for offensive language and imagery.

All three companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The tech publication “The Information” reported on Friday that the department was planning to hold what it described as a “workshop” on the law’s future in February. But the source familiar with the government’s plans said a date for the event has not yet been fixed.

Plans for such a conference come in the wake of a speech last month in which U.S. Attorney General William Barr said that the Justice Department was “studying Section 230 and its scope.” Barr said that “many are concerned that Section 230 immunity has been extended far beyond what Congress originally intended.”

Barr said current law had “enabled platforms to absolve themselves completely of responsibility for policing their platforms, while blocking or removing third-party speech – including political speech – selectively, and with impunity.”

Some lawmakers and experts want the companies to bear more responsibility for policing their services, which could steeply increase costs for the internet giants.

Several professors across the United States who study laws around speech and expression on the internet were invited to the event, according to four people asked to attend. Two said they had not been given details on the event’s timing, participants or structure.

Emma Llansó, director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said the Justice Department is considering holding public panels and private meetings, according to an invitation she received this week.

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