Reason Roundup

Rubio Bill Would Make Tech Companies Disclose Government Interference

Plus: Congress' gift to Big Tech companies, infrastructure bill costs, and more...


Proposal would mandate more transparency. A lot of what people mistake as tech-company ideology creeping into their business practices actually stems from attempts to comply with government demands. The feds put pressure on digital companies to suppress or block certain types of content and transactions in ways that are both overt (for instance, FOSTA, the 2018 law criminalizing content that promotes prostitution) and unseen (i.e., Operation Choke Point, a once-secretive program that encouraged financial services to target porn stars, gun sellers, and other entrepreneurs politicians don't like), wielding appeals to stopping everything from crime and violence to disinformation and foreign propaganda. Many of these asks are of dubious effect and seem more politically motivated than anything else.

A new bill in the Senate would demand digital companies disclose such government pressure and dictates. It was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.)—who paints the proposal in the most ludicrously partisan terms possible.

"Through campaign contributions, censorship, and woke nonsense, it's perfectly clear that Silicon Valley giants are working together with the Left to destroy conservative values in America," writes Rubio in introducing the bill, called the PRESERVE Online Speech Act.

The left certainly has no monopoly on trying to use the government to shape and censor the internet and, in turn, the world it reflects and shapes. But despite Rubio's paranoid partisan shtick, his idea might not be a bad one.

"There are a host of legal and philosophical problems with the idea that the federal government should regulate the internal deliberations of privately owned companies such as Facebook and Twitter. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with Americans demanding to know to what extent their own government is engaging in that process," suggests Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review. "At the moment, we are wholly reliant upon the executive branch's willingness to disclose its own dealings. Under Senator Rubio's arrangement, Americans would have a statutory right to know the nature of those dealings — including which requests are being made, how frequently, in what language, to what end, and with what partisan hue."

Under the PRESERVE Online Speech Act, tech companies would be required to quickly and publicly disclose "any requests from governments to moderate, censor or otherwise limit speech," as Rubio describes it. Businesses would turn this information over to the Federal Communications Commission, which would release it in an annual report.

I see several potential snags, however. First, there would be exceptions for government censorship requests related to "certain law enforcement activities, including terrorism and human trafficking," says Rubio. But the government does a lot of snooping and censoring under the pretense of stopping these things.

Exceptions for anything the feds deem related to terrorism, trafficking, or crime could make the requirement effectively useless.

Second, relying on the same administrations making these requests to release evidence of these requests doesn't necessarily inspire confidence.

Third, with businesses being fined $50,000 per day for failure to disclose the requested information, companies could potentially be punished for failing to turn over information on requests that other branches of government have told them to keep secret, or that exist only in the conspiracy-theorizing minds of politicians whose brains have been melted by tribalism and/or ego.

Cooke suggests "it might also be a good idea to demand that the government also disclose any communications; that way, an auditor could compare and contrast the two filings."


How the infrastructure bill benefits Big Tech incumbents:


How much will the infrastructure bill cost? The Congressional Budget Office breaks it down:

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that over the 2021-2031 period, enacting Senate Amendment 2137 to H.R. 3684 would decrease direct spending by $110 billion, increase revenues by $50 billion, and increase discretionary spending by $415 billion. On net, the legislation would add $256 billion to projected deficits over that period.


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