Tech Industry Protests New Terrorist Activity Reporting Section in US Senate Bill

Tech companies have protested against Section 603 of the US Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 Tech – that requires companies to report any potential terrorist activities on their platforms to authorities – claiming it may infringe on users’ privacy.  

Arguing that the term “any terrorist activity” leaves too much room for interpretation, the open letter signed by the Internet Association, Reform Government Surveillance and Internet Infrastructure Coalition calls for a new assessment of Section 603, which they say may raise First Amendment privacy concerns.

“The unworkable requirements of Section 603 would have the effect of chilling free speech as Internet platforms could be burdened with reporting content that in many cases they have no way to understand,” reads the joint letter. “Section 603, which requires companies to report facts and circumstances connected to the vague and overbroad term any `terrorist activity,’ would result in overbroad reporting to the government, swamping law enforcement with useless information, and potentially raising First Amendment and privacy concerns for the user who posted the item.”

The provision has also been tackled by more than 30 civil rights groups that urge key senators to revise the bill as it may not cause over-reporting by providers, and expose the content of private communications to the government. As a result, bot “bad actors” and privacy-wary users could switch to outside US services to protect their privacy, rendering Section 603 ineffective.

“Cautious providers who over-report would contribute an unmanageable glut of false leads and inaccurate reports that would waste law enforcement resources to assess,” reads the coalition letter from the Center for Democracy & Technology. “Bad actors, along with wholly innocent users concerned about their privacy, can switch to “offshore” services that are not subject to Section 603’s reporting obligation.”

The bill is on hold and is undergoing Senate revision, according to Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon.

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