Attorney General Ford Asks Congress to Hold Internet Service Providers Accountable, Ensure States Maintain Right to Stop Criminal Violations of State Law

May 23, 2019

Carson City, NV – Today, Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford joined 47 attorneys general across the country calling on Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act in order to make sure state and local authorities are able to protect our residents online and take appropriate action against criminal actors.

    The Communication Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) was designed to encourage the growth of the internet by promoting free expression, particularly on online message boards. The Act was intended to allow companies who sponsor message boards to remain immune to repercussions from inappropriate posts, but, due to a misinterpretation of Section 230 of the Act, some federal court opinions have interpreted the Act so broadly that individuals and services, which knowingly aid and profit from illegal activity, have evaded prosecution.

      “One of the functions of my office is to protect Nevadans and enforce their rights,” said AG Ford. “In order to best achieve this mission, I’m calling on Congress to allow states to work with our federal partners to address criminal activity that occurs online.”

        The “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” and “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA-SESTA) was signed into law in 2018, making clear that the CDA’s immunity does not apply to enforcement of federal or state sex trafficking laws. Unfortunately, the abuse on these platforms does not stop at sex trafficking, but includes all sorts of harmful illegal activity such as online black market opioid sales, identity theft and election meddling. The letter states that Section 230 of the CDA expressly exempts prosecution of federal crimes from the safe harbor, and explains why addressing criminal activity cannot be relegated to federal enforcement alone simply because the activity occurs online.

          This letter does not mark the first time attorneys general have addressed this issue with Congress. In 2013 and 2017, nearly every state and territorial attorney general, including Nevada, wrote to inform Congress of the damaging misinterpretation and misapplication of Section 230 of the CDA. With the backing of 47 of the nation’s Attorneys General, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) has chosen to endorse the legislation as one of its official policy positions. Historically, NAAG endorses less than a dozen policies a year.

            In addition to Nevada, the following states joined in this letter: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.