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Online Monitoring Dropped From Intelligence Bill

A provision has been dropped from an Intelligence Authorization bill that critics said would have turned social media sites like Twitter and Facebook into Internet police.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said on his website Tuesday that the provision would have required those and similar companies "to notify the government about vaguely defined 'terrorist activity' by social media users." Wyden, one of the bill's opponents, had put a hold on it back in July, citing the provision. (A single Senator can block legislation.)

“Going after terrorist recruitment and activity online is a serious mission that demands a serious response from our law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” Wyden said in a statement. "Social media companies aren’t qualified to judge which posts amount to 'terrorist activity,' and they shouldn’t be forced against their will to create a Facebook Bureau of Investigations to police their users’ speech.”

The Computer & Communications Information Association was among the tech and computer groups concerned about the provision, and was concomitantly pleased with its excision.

“Placing the burden of searching customers’ communications for signs of terrorism on online companies would have a chilling effect on the Internet while encouraging well-intentioned companies to over-report data on law-abiding citizens," CCIA president Ed Black said. "However it would have done little to achieve the results those proposing it were seeking.

"We once again thank Senator Wyden for his leadership and for championing the Internet as a communications tool," Black said. "He successfully blocked the bill until his colleagues could gather more information on the limited likelihood of success versus the significant consequences of this approach.”

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.