Monday, January 22, 2007

Adam Liptak of the New York Times is off to a mixed start with his legal column.

Today's New York Times introduced "Sidebar," a new column on legal issues with "Fair Housing, Free Speech and Choosy Roommates." I'm impressed by the choice of this topic, which is at the confluence of several critical legal issues, and the author, Adam Liptak, does a very good job of explaining that. I suspect that I will become a regular reader of this column. However, his tone in one spot annoyed me because of its apparent lack of appreciation for the importance of one of those issues.
"To compound matters, Congress created a second kind of mischief in 1996 when it enacted the Communications Decency Act. Almost in passing, that law made online companies immune from lawsuits over information they transmit but do not create." (the emphasis is mine)
The internet cannot function as a means of free communication if web sites are held responsible for the content of speech that they facilitate. The alternative would turn every internet company into a censor. Imagine if the telephone company had to review every phone call for offensive speech! What Congress did in 1996 was in no way mischief. It established a principle that is fundamental to the way the internet should work.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Erin said...

Fortunately offensive speech is not illegal. However, discriminating against people in a protected class in housing is. I understand where you are coming from, but allowing people to deny others their choice in housing is disturbing. A newspaper must review all of their classifieds to ensure that they are not making illegal statements. Why allow websites this loophole?

I notice that you have comment moderation turned on for your blog. I do not see what the problem is in a moderator reviewing housing advertisements for illegal content before allowing them to be posted. Seems simple enough to me...

23/1/07 13:37  
Blogger Steve said...

Thanks for the comment. Your remarks are well-taken. (I would prefer not to moderate comments, but I ran into a bout of "comment spam" a while back).

My view is that speech is the responsibility of the speaker and that holding a web host responsible for speech forces it to take actions that stifle free speech. On the other hand, I also see where you are coming from. In the case of a housing forum, where discrimination is a known risk and the pace of exchange allows moderation, then it may be warranted. My main point was that the wording in yesterday's column ("mischief" and "almost in passing") seems dismissive of a law that to my mind embodies an important principle.

23/1/07 15:00  
Blogger PatricktheRogue said...

I realize this is an old debate, but since the cyber world is eternal, I must agree with Steve and even go further, possibly. Why censor speech in the newspaper. Why couldn't a racist organization take out an ad in the paper without the paper having to answer for it? Ads taken out should be the responsibility of the advertiser, not the medium.

24/11/09 12:36  

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