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House Seeks USTR Input on Sec. 230

The House Energy & Commerce Committee is looking into the impact of writing Sec. 230 liability carveouts into trade agreements.

The committee said Monday (Oct. 7) that it has invited U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to testify at a join subcommittee hearing Oct. 16 on Sec. 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The section protects edge providers from liability for third-party postings.

“As provisions similar to Section 230 are included in trade agreements, it’s important for the Committee to hear directly from Ambassador Lighthizer about how these provisions may affect the ability of the United States and our trading partners to enforce existing laws or write new ones,” said House E&C chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). “I hope he will join us at the hearing on the 16th.”

Related: Hawley Bill Would Take Big Bit Out of Sec. 230

Back in August, the bipartisan leadership of the committee asked Lighthizer, the Trump Administration's chief trade negotiator, not to "export" language mirroring the current Sec. 230 (Communications Decency Act) protection of websites from liability for third party content.

Both Democrats and Republicans are pondering whether that liability protection should still apply, and they don't want it to be boilerplate in trade agreements struck by the Administration, in particular its current appearance in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Sec. 230 was adopted by Congress under the theory that those platforms were simply the online public square of ideas and that to make them liable would blow up their business model, or at the time (1996), nip it in the bud.

Related: Big Tech's Sec. 230 Sweetheart Deal Must End

That bud has bloomed and Congress is taking another look in the wake of concerns over disinformation, hate speech, allegations of bias and censorship, and more.