CFJ Urges NAFTA Negotiators to Protect Online Free Speech
Washington D.C. — The Committee for Justice (CFJ) joined a letter to trade negotiators from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, urging them to protect websites from liability for third party content posted on their sites when updating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The letter requests that the renegotiated agreement incorporate protection similar to that afforded by Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, a domestic statute that provides websites with limited immunity from liability for third-party speech.
As CFJ's Ashley Baker and Christina Pesavento pointed out in a Jurist op-ed this fall, "Section 230 is the law that made today’s Internet possible." Without it, "[o]nline platforms could potentially face … liability for every single comment, image, and video their users post." "The interactive websites that make the Internet the vibrant force it is today would have been virtually impossible without immunity for third-party content," adds CFJ President Curt Levey.
The letter explains why "[i]ncorporating intermediary immunity into NAFTA will advance commerce and trade in … important ways," including promoting competition. "[I]ntermediary immunity lowers the barriers to launch new online services predicated on third party content, making those markets more competitive. Without immunity, new entrants face business-ending liability exposure from day one."
In particular, the letter notes that the very valuable "consumer review services and other wisdom-of-the-crowds feedback mechanisms [that] have no offline equivalent" could not function at all without third-party immunity.
The letter adds that "intermediary immunity leads to many other positive benefits [as well], including advancing consumers’ free speech rights (by giving traditionally disenfranchised voices access to global publication platforms)." As we noted in the Jurist op-ed, without such immunity, "the services that make online speech possible would … come under enormous pressure to filter, moderate, or otherwise censor their users’ speech. Many intermediaries may opt not to host or transmit any user content at all."
"The digital commerce provisions in international trade agreements are becoming more important with each passing year," notes Mr. Levey. "Getting intermediate immunity right in the next version of NAFTA is vitally important not just for its own sake but also for the precedent it will set as future trade agreements are negotiated."