Using the internet to cause emotional distress is a felony?

Has anyone told Twitter? It's Episode 321 of the Cyberlaw Podcast.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

This is the week when the movement to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act got serious. The Justice Department released a substantive report suggesting multiple reforms. I was positive about many of them (my views here). Meanwhile, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has proposed a somewhat similar set of changes in his bill, introduced this week. Nate Jones and I dig into the provisions, and both of us expect interest from Democrats as well as Republicans.

The National Security Agency has launched a pilot program to provide secure DNS resolver services for US defense contractors. If that's such a good idea, I ask, why doesn't everybody do it, and Nick Weaver tells us they can. Phil Reitinger's Global Cyberalliance offers Quad9 for this purpose.

Gus Hurwitz brings us up to date on a host of European cyberlaw developments, from terror takedowns (Reuters, Tech Crunch) to competition law to the rise of a disturbingly unaccountable and self-confident judiciary. Microsoft's Brad Smith, meanwhile, wins the prize for best marriage of business self-interest and Zeitgeist in the twenty-first century.

Hackers used LinkedIn's private messaging feature to send documents containing malicious code which defense contractor employees were tricked into opening. Nick points out just what a boon LinkedIn is for cyberespionage (including his own), and I caution listeners not to display their tats on LinkedIn.

Speaking of fools who kind of have it coming, Nick tells the story of the now former eBay executives who have been charged with sustained and imaginatively-over-the-top harassment of the owners of a newsletter that had not been deferential to eBay. (Wired, DOJ)

It's hard to like the defendants in that case, I argue, but the law they've been charged under is remarkably sweeping. Apparently it's a felony to intentionally use the internet to cause substantial emotional distress. Who knew? Most of us who use Twitter thought that was its main purpose. I also discover that special protections under the law are extended not only to prevent internet threats and harassment of service animals but also horses of any kind. Other livestock are apparently left unprotected. PETA, call your office.

Child abusers cheered when Zoom buckled to criticism of its limits on end-to-end encryption, but Nick insists that the new policy offers safeguards for policing misuse of the platform. (Ars Technica, Zoom)

I take a minute to roast Republicans in Congress who have announced that no FISA reauthorization will be adopted until John Durham's investigation of FISA abuses is done, which makes sense until you realize that the FISA provisions up for reauthorization have nothing to do with the abuses Durham is investigating. So we're giving international terrorists a break from scrutiny simply because the President can't keep the difference straight.

Nate notes that a story previewed in April has now been confirmed: Team Telecom is recommending the blocking of a Hong Kong-US undersea cable over national security concerns.

Gus reminds us that a bitter trade fight between the US and Europe over taxes on Silicon Valley services is coming. (Politico, Ars Technica)

Nick and I mourn the complete meltdown of mobile phone contact tracing. I argue that from here on out, some portion of coronavirus deaths should be classified as mechanogenic (caused by engineering malpractice). Nick proposes instead a naming convention built around the Therac-25.

And we close with a quick look at the latest data dump from Distributed Denial of Secrets. Nick thinks it's strikingly contemporaneous but also surprisingly unscandalizing.

Download the 321st Episode (mp3).

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The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of their institutions, clients, friends, families, or pets.

 

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  1. Most of us who use Twitter thought that was its main purpose.

    Sending bloody animal parts to people and sex toys to their neighbors? (The latter is inherently likely to backfire because I’d call the police, who’d have to interview the neighbor whom it was addressed to — and who would have to say “no, he didn’t order it — that’s why we’re here.”)

    These schmucks traveled clear across the country for this — that’s time and money — a lot of both, and a far cry from an obnoxious tweet.

    1. And isn’t crossing a state line for the purpose of committing a crime itself a Federal offense?

  2. I take a minute to roast Republicans in Congress who have announced that no FISA reauthorization will be adopted until John Durham’s investigation of FISA abuses is done, which makes sense until you realize that the FISA provisions up for reauthorization have nothing to do with the abuses Durham is investigating. So we’re giving international terrorists a break from scrutiny simply because the President can’t keep the difference straight.

    No, it’s called leverage — and giving the honest Feds an incentive to help Durham, et al. A lot worse has been done in the name of justice….

  3. Yes, they came for them, and I thought it tolerable to clever.

    1. Good points, Dr. Ed.

  4. Both sides want to alter 230 because companies have the temerity to not censor in ways the politicians want. We shouldn’t be here in the first place, and probably wouldn’t be, if politicians weren’t screeching for anti-harassment censorship regimes, or 230 “might get broken and you don’t want that”, or “we might decide you’re too big and break you up”, so you’d better start censoring, wink!

    These companies are decidedly not doing this by exercising their natural right to free speech any more than someone in the Hanoi Hilton stated they were enjoying their stay.

  5. Re: The headline “Using the internet to cause emotional distress is a felony?”

    If hurting someone’s feelings was a crime, we’d ALL be doing hard time.

  6. If Baker is “positive” on the Section 230 reform proposals, I’m going to start with a default position of opposing them. FOSTA was a horrible law that made people less safe by driving sex workers back underground. It’s negative consequences will take years to play out. Using that as “evidence” that Section 230 is “unneeded” is ludicrous.

    1. sex workers

      You mean, whores?

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