Precedential U.S. Legislation Curtails Immunity for Operators of Online Services

For the first time in over 20 years, the U.S. Congress has passed a bill curtailing immunity from liability granted to operators of online services for publishing and hosting unlawful content. Once President Trump signs the act, online platforms that are found to "promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person" or are found to be involved in sex trafficking, due to content published on them by third party users, may be held criminally and civilly liable.

The law was enacted with broad bi-partisan support in Congress. The law's opponents argue that it will foster an adverse ‘chilling effect’ on operators of online services that are now likely to impose censorship on legitimate content, preferring to err on the side of caution in order to safeguard against liability. On the other hand, proponents of the law argue that the Internet is not intended to serve as a 'Safe Harbor' for sex traffic and prostitution of persons. 

Since 1996, section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) has given online platforms broad immunity from liability for user-generated content found to be unlawful. Providers were therefore largely immune from liability and were not required to remove unlawful content originating from users. Internet law experts argue that section 230 of the CDA has been a major legal catalytic that spurred the flourishing of the Internet since 1996, giving operators of online services the freedom to operate.

Click here to read the new legislation.