(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined 46 other attorneys general across the country this week urging Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act so that state and local authorities are able to protect Ohioans online and take appropriate action against criminal actors.
“If a crook can avoid Ohio’s justice because of a gap in the law, then that part of the law needs a swift rewrite,” Yost said. “Congress needs to put power in states’ hands to hold accountable those that profit from illegal activity.”
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,” a letter from the attorneys general to Congressional leaders states.
Attorneys general have addressed this issue with Congress before. In 2013 and 2017, nearly every state and territory attorney general wrote to inform Congress of the damaging misinterpretation and misapplication of Section 230 of the CDA.