Leaked Draft of Trump Executive Order to ‘Censor the Internet’ Denounced as Dangerous, Unconstitutional Edict

Leaked Draft of Trump Executive Order to ‘Censor the Internet’ Denounced as Dangerous, Unconstitutional Edict

“In practice, this executive order would mean that whichever political party is in power could dictate what speech is allowed on the Internet.”

By Jon Queally

Civil liberties groups are warning of a major threat to online freedoms and First Amendment rights if a leaked draft of a Trump administration edict—dubbed by critics as a “Censor the Internet” executive order that would give powerful federal agencies far-reaching powers to pick and choose which kind of Internet material is and is not acceptable—is allowed to go into effect.

“If these reports are a trial balloon from the White House, then it’s time to pop it.”
—Chris Lewis, Public Knowledge
According to CNN, which obtained a copy of the draft, the new rule “calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration’s draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies.”

While Politico was the first to report how the draft was being circulated by the White House, CNN notes that if put into effect, “the order would reflect a significant escalation by President Trump in his frequent attacks against social media companies over an alleged but unproven systemic bias against conservatives by technology platforms. And it could lead to a significant reinterpretation of a law that, its authors have insisted, was meant to give tech companies broad freedom to handle content as they see fit.”

Following reporting on the leaked draft, free speech and online advocacy groups raised alarm about the troubling and far-reaching implications of the Trump plan if it was put into effect by executive decree.

“It’s hard to put into words how mind bogglingly absurd this executive order is,” saidEvan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, in a tweet. “In the name of defending free speech it would allow mass government censorship of online content. In practice, it means whichever party is in power can decide what speech is allowed on the internet.”

PEN America, which defends the free expression for writers, journalists, and others, warned that any executive order based on this draft rule would be an unconstitutional “anti-American edict.”

As detailed in an action alert put out by Fight for the Future over the weekend:

[The] leaked documents show that the Trump administration is drafting an executive order that, if upheld by the courts, could essentially end free speech on the Internet. The draft order would put the FTC and the FCC, headed by its notoriously corrupt chairman Ajit Pai, in charge of monitoring and policing online speech on social media platforms, online forums, and more.

It would give these bureaucratic government agencies unprecedented control over how Internet platforms moderate speech by allowing them to revoke the essential protections Congress laid out in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). CDA 230 is the basic law that makes it possible for online platforms to let users post our own content, and to make basic decisions about what types of content they as private entities want to host. Every meme, every social media post, every blog and user-created video on the Internet has been made possible by this crucial free speech protection.

In practice, this executive order would mean that whichever political party is in power could dictate what speech is allowed on the Internet. If the government doesn’t like the way a private company is moderating content, they can shut their entire website down.

“These leaks about a potential Executive Order from the White House are troubling on many levels, from the order’s potential to violate the First Amendment, to its apparent disregard for the independence of agencies like the FCC and the FTC, to its intent to unilaterally limit Section 230 which promotes moderated online communities free of hate speech and misinformation,” said Chris Lewis, president and CEO of Public Knowledge.

“If these reports are a trial balloon from the White House,” Lewis added, “then it’s time to pop it.”

While the Trump administration has tried to argue the new order is a tool to keep web platforms from censoring online speech, Fight for the Future warns “this plan would create terrifying new censorship powers for the government to do just that.”

While Fight for the Future acknowledged the serious and legitimate concerns about the behavior and outsized power of the major tech giants, it said the draft rule is a simply unacceptable way to address those issues:

Despite loud and continued claims from right-wing forces that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are biased against them, Public Knowledge’s Lewis said the new White House proposal is yet another reason to push back against this unfounded mantra that Trump himself has helped proliferate.

“Political bias by digital platforms remains unproven. In fact, an independent study by The Economist points towards search platforms having a bias towards virality and attention, not political ideology,” said Lewis. “This matches reports from books like Tim Wu’s “The Attention Merchants” and others that study social media addiction. It is this sort of algorithmic bias towards virality that foreign adversaries use to sow disinformation and mistrust in our country.”

Given how much power the proposed would place in the hands of the FCC and FTC, Lewis said it is crucial for the heads of those agencies—including FCC chair Ajit Pai, a former telecom industry lobbyist and Trump appointee—to come forward and make clear their commitment to First Amendment protections.

“It is all the more important to hear from FCC commissioners given Chairman Pai’s strong condemnation of public positions taken by past administrations on net neutrality violating the independence of the FCC,” said Lewis. “If these reports are true, this Executive Order serves as a direct order to the FCC that if left unchallenged, could threaten the independence of these agencies altogether.”

As part of its effort to halt such an executive order in its track, Fight for the Future people urged people—”regardless of your politics”—to oppose the measure.

“Regardless of how you feel about the president,” the group said, “this is a terrible idea that will have the exact opposite impact of its stated purpose of protecting free speech.”

Source: Leaked Draft of Trump Executive Order to ‘Censor the Internet’ Denounced as Dangerous, Unconstitutional Edict | Common Dreams News

Privacy Advocates Celebrate Court Ruling on Class-Action Suit Targeting Facebook’s Facial Recognition Tech |

Privacy Advocates Celebrate Court Ruling on Class-Action Suit Targeting Facebook’s Facial Recognition Tech

“Both corporations and the government are now on notice that this technology poses unique risks to people’s privacy and safety.”

By Jessica Corbett

Civil liberties advocates celebrated after a federal court in San Francisco ruled Thursday that Facebook users in Illinois can sue the social media giant on the grounds that its facial recognition technology violates a strict state privacy law.

“This decision is a strong recognition of the dangers of unfettered use of face surveillance technology.”
—Nathan Freed Wessler, ACLU

“This decision is a strong recognition of the dangers of unfettered use of face surveillance technology,” Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement after the ruling.

“The capability to instantaneously identify and track people based on their faces raises chilling potential for privacy violations at an unprecedented scale,” he said. “Both corporations and the government are now on notice that this technology poses unique risks to people’s privacy and safety.”

Last year, the ACLU—along with its Ilinois as well as Northern and Southern California chapters, Illinois PIRG, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation—filed an amicus brief in support of the class-action suit, Patel v. Facebook. According to the ACLU, the ruling Thursday was the first time a U.S. appellate court has “directly addressing the unique privacy harms posed by the face recognition technology.”

Freed Wessler took to Twitter Thursday to highlight portions of the ruling that explain why the technology poses significant threats to privacy:

A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals concluded Thursday that “the development of a face template using facial recognition technology without consent (as alleged here) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests.” The ruling stated that the “technology at issue here can obtain information that is ‘detailed, encyclopedic, and effortlessly compiled,’ which would be almost impossible without such technology.”

Facebook had sought to quash the lawsuit—which, Reuters noted, “exposes the company to billions of dollars in potential damages to the Illinois users who brought the case.” The suit, initially launched in 2015, charges that Facebook’s use of facial recognition technology to suggest users to “tag” in photos based on previously uploaded images violates the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

Enacted in 2008, BIPA is considered by many privacy experts and advocates the nation’s toughest state standard on the consent, notice, and disclosure required for private entities to collect, store, or use biometric identifiers—defined by the law as “a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or scan of hand or face geometry.”

With Thursday’s ruling, “BIPA’s innovative protections for biometric information are now enforceable in federal court,” said Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois. “If a corporation violates a statute by taking your personal information without your consent, you do not have to wait until your data is stolen or misused to go to court.”

“If a corporation violates a statute by taking your personal information without your consent, you do not have to wait until your data is stolen or misused to go to court.”
—Rebecca Glenberg, ACLU of Illinois

“As our General Assembly understood when it enacted BIPA, a strong enforcement mechanism is crucial to hold companies accountable when they violate our privacy laws,” she added. “Corporations that misuse Illinoisans’ sensitive biometric data now do so at their own peril.”

NPR reported Thursday that Facebook plans to request a full circuit court review of the panel’s decision. Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne told the outlet that “we have always disclosed our use of face recognition technology and that people can turn it on or off at any time.”

New York Times technology reporter Natasha Singer explained in a series of tweets why the court’s “landmark” ruling “must be sending shivers down the spine of Silicon Valley.”

Singer wrote that “this is a huge deal not only because it exposes Facebook to potential damages of several billion dollars,” but also because “the court found that Americans’—or at least Illinoisans’—right to privacy can be violated even without a concrete physical or economic harm—like stalking, identity theft, or financial loss.”

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Source: Privacy Advocates Celebrate Court Ruling on Class-Action Suit Targeting Facebook’s Facial Recognition Tech | Common Dreams News

Union Leaders Rebuke Centrist Democrats for Claiming Medicare for All Would Harm Workers

Union Leaders Rebuke Centrist Democrats for Claiming Medicare for All Would Harm Workers

“Medicare for All would put money back into union members’ pockets in the form of wages and other benefits. That’s why major unions representing millions of workers in the U.S. are in this fight.”

By Jake Johnson

Leaders of some of America’s largest labor unions are speaking out against centrist Democratic presidential candidates who, in an effort to undercut Medicare for All, are pitting unionized workers against millions of uninsured Americans.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), and former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) have each argued in recent days that Medicare for All would undo the hard-won collective bargaining gains of unions by replacing employer-sponsored health insurance with a single-payer program.

“I really resent the 16 million workers who joined together and bargained for better health plans being pitted against millions of Americans struggling to get healthcare coverage.” 
—Mary Kay Henry, Service Employees International Union

As Common Dreams reported last month, the Biden campaign released an ad featuring a retired union worker named Marcy, who said she “earned” her private insurance and wants to keep it.

Ryan and Delaney echoed the message of Biden’s ad during the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit on Wednesday, accusing Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) of throwing union workers under the bus by backing Medicare for All.

“We have all our union friends here tonight,” said Ryan. “This plan that’s being offered by Senator Warren and Senator Sanders will tell those union members who gave away wages in order to get good healthcare that they’re going to lose their healthcare because Washington’s going to come in and tell them they got a better plan.”

HuffPost labor reporter Dave Jamieson said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) president Mary Kay Henry seemed “genuinely angered” when asked about the argument that Medicare for All would hurt union workers.

“I think it’s a false choice,” said Henry, “and I really resent the 16 million workers who joined together and bargained for better health plans being pitted against millions of Americans struggling to get healthcare coverage.”

Henry was not alone.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told Vox that she found Ryan’s argument “offensive.”

“It is real that there is work to do with unions,” Nelson said. “People do love their contractural plans. But not every union contract today has exemplary healthcare.”

Democratic opponents of Medicare for All neglected to mention the fact that National Nurses United (NNU), America’s largest nurses union, is leading the grassroots organizing for single-payer across the country.

NNU tweeted during the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night that “Medicare for All would put money back into union members’ pockets in the form of wages and other benefits.”

“That’s why major unions representing millions of workers in the U.S. are in this fight,” said NNU.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who herself has voiced frustration with fellow Democrats’ misleading attacks on Medicare for All, thanked union leaders for “pushing back on these falsehoods” in a tweet on Thursday.

While some prominent unions—most recently the International Association of Fire Fighters, which endorsed Biden for president—have expressed opposition to Medicare for All, more than 20 unions representing over 10 million workers have endorsed Jayapal’s Medicare for All legislation, including the American Federation of Teachers, the United Automobile Workers, and the United Mine Workers of America.

“We have an unprecedented labor coalition supporting [Medicare for All],” Jayapal said, “because soaring healthcare costs are directly tied to stagnating wages and hurt workers at the bargaining table.”

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Source: Union Leaders Rebuke Centrist Democrats for Claiming Medicare for All Would Harm Workers | Common Dreams News