Senator Joe Manchin, whom you may recall from his star turn promoting the failed Manchin-Toomey universal background check push after Sandy Hook, is still busy in the Senate. He’s the “centrist” West Virginia Democrat who, in a 50-50 world, is described by many as the upper chamber’s most powerful Senator. But if those on the right are looking to Manchin as a safeguard against some of the left’s most ambitious attacks on individual freedoms, a bill he just introduced should be cause for concern.
His S. 27 is described as a bill to require reporting of “suspicious transmissions” in order to assist in criminal investigations and counterintelligence activities relating to international terrorism, and “for other purposes.” It promises to do for free speech what Manchin-Toomey would have done to the Second Amendment.
The text of the bill is here, but I’ll give you the basics. If enacted, any “interactive computer service” will be required to report
wrongthink questionable posts or comments by a user, content referred to here as “suspicious transmissions.”
The term ‘‘suspicious transmission’’ means any public or private post, message, comment, tag, transaction, or any other user-generated content or transmission that commits, facilitates, incites, promotes, or otherwise assists the commission of a major crime.
That definition is broad enough to encompass just about anything a government bureaucrat wants it to.
Failure to report such “transmissions” would result in the loss of the computer service company’s CDA Section 230 protection against liability for third parties’ speech. To be clear, the speech that Senator Manchin wants to know about here includes commenting on articles such as this one, or even on smaller, personal, noncommercial blogs.
The term “interactive computer service” means any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet and such systems operated or services offered by libraries or educational institutions.
The report of suspicious content must contain the name, location, and other identifying information of the sender of the “transmission.” Since reporting would be mandatory, one assumes that all of these computer services will have to require users to register in order to post comments so they can be identified should they generate any objectionable material. That means the end of Internet anonymity.
Manchin’s bill provides for these reports — spurious or not — to be “referred as necessary to the appropriate Federal, State, or local law enforcement or regulatory agency.” The referring “interactive computer services” would be required to track and maintain records of these reports for five years.
If S. 27 passes, it would be doing a big favor for the tech giants that dominate the online space like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. They’re profitable enough to afford these onerous compliance requirements. Small time bloggers like myself cannot. At a bare minimum I would have to disable commenting on my blog, a move many would be forced to make.
Than again, I may have to shut down the blog completely, lest some left-wing, triggered nutjob report one of my posts to the big eye in the sky. Yes, individuals will be able to rat on content creators who dare to write something they deem dangerous or questionable.
(B) CONSUMER REPORTING —The agency designated or established under subparagraph (A) shall establish a centralized online resource, which may be used by individual members of the public to report suspicious activity related to major crimes for investigation by the appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agency.
Manchin’s bill would return us to the glorious days of the Stasi all over again.
Suppose some busybody hits the report button on a tweet. Twitter then files its report with the state security service. Then, in addition to alerting Twitter, said busybody then goes to the central online snitch line and reports whatever was said in the tweet to the feds again. The feds will have gotten two — or more — reports on the same guy and decide he or she must really be dangerous.
They might then pass that information on to the victim’s local law enforcement agency. Does your state have a red flag law? Do you think your local police might decide that a federal warning about “suspicious transmissions” is reason enough to confiscate your firearms just in case?
That, of course, assumes that a federal red flag law isn’t passed, an effort some think has bipartisan support.
If you are telling yourself that Manchin’s bill will never pass, please consider the co-sponsor: Senator John Cornyn. The senior Senator from Texas — who calls the bill the See Something, Say Something Online Act — is powerful, and isn’t generally a friend to civil rights (see his support of the PATRIOT Act). Watch this bill closely.