President Trump hailed the trade agreement he signed with Mexico and Canada last week as “great for all our countries.”
Perhaps he doesn’t know that the NAFTA-replacing trade agreement, USMCA, gives tech giants in Silicon Valley a special legal privilege to censor his own supporters — and anyone else they find “objectionable.”
Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube all engaged in pre-election censorship against Republicans and Trump supporters.
Yet they’ve managed to sneak a liability protection into President Trump’s trade bill that would make it even easier for them to censor their own users.
USMCA entrenches the tech giants’ legal protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grant them legal immunity for user-generated content. This is an important part of the law that allows tech platforms to host a wide variety of speech with light-touch moderation.
But USMCA also entrenches tech companies’ right to censor without liability. Article 19.17 of the trade agreement gives tech companies immunity from any lawsuits arising from actions taken to “restrict material it considers to be harmful or objectionable.”
3. No Party shall impose liability on a supplier or user of an interactive computer service on
(a) any action voluntarily taken in good faith by the supplier or user to restrict access
to or availability of material that is accessible or available through its supply or use
of the interactive computer services and that the supplier or user considers to be
harmful or objectionable; or
(b) any action taken to enable or make available the technical means that enable an
information content provider or other persons to restrict access to material that it
considers to be harmful or objectionable.
Section 230 has a similarly problematic provision, which needs to be amended by the next Congress if the censorship of the internet is to be stopped. But the new, even broader censorship provision, will make it nearly impossible for the tech giants’ privilege of legal immunity from any lawsuit that arises out of their censorship practices to be taken away.
Whereas Section 230 can be amended by the U.S. congress, USMCA is a trade agreement – once ratified by all three nations (the U.S., Canada, and Mexico), it will take further agreement from the three nations to amend it. And only one of those countries has a First Amendment. Canada, with its wide-ranging hate speech laws and far-left Prime Minister, would see little reason to make it harder for tech companies to censor “objectionable” content.
That said, USMCA isn’t ratified yet. It must first be approved by both Houses of Congress. Although President Trump has threatened a rapid cancellation of NAFTA to force Congress to approve its replacement, he faces legal obstacles to doing so.
And he might also be reluctant to do so when he learns that his own trade bill protects the very same tech censorship that he has publicly denounced.
In August, the President warned that “we will not tolerate political censorship, blacklisting, and rigged search results.”
Yet USMCA protects tech companies right to do exactly that — to bury any content they subjectively consider “objectionable” or “harmful.”
Despite attempts by Democrats and the corporate media to frame concerns about tech censorship as a “conspiracy theory,” internal research from Google leaked exclusively to Breitbart News earlier this year confirmed that tech platforms have indeed “shifted towards censorship.”
Although it’s too late for Trump to amend USMCA himself (he’s already signed it!), but so long as he delays cancelling NAFTA, he can give Congress time to make changes to the bill.
By January, Democrats will control the House of Representatives and the Senate will feature two new Republican senators, Marsha Blackburn and Josh Hawley, who are no friends of Silicon Valley tech giants. That will create a negotiating environment favorable to making broad changes to USMCA.
It’ll also provide a window for the grassroots to voice its concerns and pressure Congress to remove the pro-censorship provision from USMCA.
The stakes are high. Once the treaty is ratified, it will be exponentially harder to roll back internet censorship. Unless you want the tech giants’ right to censor to persist for another 20 years (that’s how long NAFTA lasted), now is the time to make your voice heard.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
December 4th, 2018