Biden team signals president-elect may target Section 230 and data privacy

Joe Biden behind the campaign podium with his arms spread open
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

A senior technology advisor to Joe Biden yesterday signaled that the President-elect is interested in changing Section 230, a key law protecting social media companies from legal liability.

Bruce Reed, who also advised Biden on technology during his vice presidency, made the announcement during the online launch of the book “Which Side of History? – How Technology is Reshaping Democracy and Our Lives,” in which he co-wrote a chapter on Section 230.

"I think there's a well-emerging consensus that it's long past time to hold the big social media platforms accountable for what's on their platforms the way we do newspaper publishers and broadcasters," said Reed, who was chief of staff for Biden during his vice presidency.

Section 230 is one of the tension points between Silicon Valley and Capitol Hill. It's a clause in the 1996 Communications Decency Act that offers broad protection to companies from lawsuits over comments generated on their websites. It paved the way for the rise of large platforms like Facebook and other social media sites that thrive on user content.

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider," it reads.

Biden has long been a critic of big tech, telling the New York Times in January that he has "never been a big Zuckerberg fan.” "[The Times] can't write something you know to be false and be exempt from being sued. But he can," he said in the interview. Bide added, "Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one."

Echoing these sentiments at the book launch, Reed criticized social media platforms’ effect on the democratic process.

"People don't trust platforms like Facebook with the future of their democracy," he added.

Reed signaled that action was coming on various issues, including consumer privacy. "[People] don't know how to get their privacy back, but they want it back, and I think sooner or later - and probably sooner - the political world is going to recognize that and act on it," he warned.

This may be one of the rare instances where the outgoing president agrees with the incoming one. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted he might veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — a linchpin of military funding — if it didn't include a clause to terminate Section 230.

Trump has long attacked big tech for what he says is a leftist agenda and has tried to repeal the law. In May, he signed an executive order attempting to rein in Section 230's measures.

Danny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury has been a print journalist specialising in technology since 1989 and a freelance writer since 1994. He has written for national publications on both sides of the Atlantic and has won awards for his investigative cybersecurity journalism work and his arts and culture writing. 

Danny writes about many different technology issues for audiences ranging from consumers through to software developers and CIOs. He also ghostwrites articles for many C-suite business executives in the technology sector and has worked as a presenter for multiple webinars and podcasts.