WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court must protect civil rights on the internet, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law argued in an amicus brief filed Thursday in Gonzalez v. Google. Joined by five other civil rights organizations, the Lawyers’ Committee argued the Supreme Court should adopt a balanced interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that neither impedes enforcement of civil rights laws nor increases censorship of people of color and other historically underserved communities.
The groups argue that our increased dependence on artificial intelligence systems has increased threats of large-scale denials of equal opportunity. “As society has moved online, so too have discrimination, redlining, voter suppression, and harassment. True equality online thus depends on whether we allow the data-driven economy to magnify and reinforce existing inequities,” the amici write.
“We understand that Section 230 acts as a double-edged sword. It can protect our communities’ ability to express themselves online without censorship. But at the same time, we must make sure tech companies do not get immunity when they engage in or facilitate discrimination, including through their algorithms,” said Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “Expanding equal opportunity in a data-driven economy requires that the immunity offered by Section 230 cannot trump civil rights protections. The immunity can extend only so far as Congress intended, and no further.”
The brief argues that Section 230 provides immunity to online platforms only when they act as a publisher and do not materially contribute to an illegal act. It discusses many forms of unlawful discrimination, such as algorithms setting higher interest rates for people of color versus similar white applicants. It also discusses situations in which platforms aid an illegal act and should notget immunity, such as when targeting Black people to receive communications that amount to voter intimidation communications. The brief discusses Congress’ intent to promote the internet as a forum for diverse voices and recognizes that such a forum cannot exist with either heavy-handed censorship nor with the rampant hate, harassment, and discrimination that disenfranchises historically underserved communities.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real.
For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org