Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody joined with 46 other attorneys general from across the country on Thursday to urge Congress to give state and local authorities greater ability to prevent online black market drug sales and other illegal activity via the internet.
The attorneys general are calling upon Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act that was designed to promote free expression online, especially on message boards and social media.
But authorities say the act is being misinterpreted to allow individuals or companies to profit from illegal activity.
“This part of the Communications Decency Act may have been necessary when the internet was in it its infancy, but now it is being exploited to promote illegal activity, including the sale of deadly opioids that is feeding our national opioid epidemic,” Moody said in a written statement. “Attorneys general already previously demanded amendments to this Act to stop the enabling of sex trafficking, and we must revise the Act again to stop CDA immunity from being used by perpetrators who violate state or territorial criminal law.”
The Communication Decency Act was adopted by Congress in 1996. It was designed to help with the growth of the internet by offering protection to companies that sponsor online services or platforms. The act provided immunity to those companies from state, civil or criminal liability regarding inappropriate posts or use of their platform for illegal activity.
But, the attorneys general argue a part of the act known as section 230 has been misinterpreted by the federal courts and applied so broadly that individuals and services, that knowingly aid and profit from illegal activity, evaded prosecution.
This isn’t the first time that state attorneys general have raised concerns about what they saw as the misapplication of the act regarding modern day internet use. Almost every attorney general spoke-out to Congress in 2013 and 2017 about what they saw was the misuse of the section for such illegal activity as sex trafficking. They say illicit activity on the internet has spread to many other areas.
“Stories of online black market opioid sales, ID theft, deep fakes, election meddling, and foreign intrusion are now ubiquitous, and these growing phenomena will undoubtedly serve as the subjects of hearings throughout the 116th Congress,” the attorneys general wrote in their letter to Congress.
“Addressing criminal activity cannot be relegated to federal enforcement alone simply because the activity occurs online. The authorities in our states must be allowed to address these crimes themselves and fulfill our primary mandate to protect our citizens and enforce their rights.”