“Its time for tech companies like Google and Facebook to start embracing the spirit of the First Amendment,” U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
The senator made the remarks during a hearing titled, “Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse.”
Video of Blackburn’s remarks may be watched here.
Blackburn called out media giants to use their power responsibly and to respect diverse viewpoints, particularly conservative voices.
She tweeted, “Big Tech shouldn’t censor stories and posts in our newsfeeds. Let free speech flourish. My full questions at the @senjudiciary hearing on censorship:”.
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) April 10, 2019
Blackburn also on Wednesday introduced SB1116, the Balancing the Rights of Web Surfers Equally and Responsibly (BROWSER) Act, she said in a press release.
The BROWSER Act requires communications and technology companies to provide users with clear and conspicuous notice of their privacy policies and the ability to opt-in to the collection of sensitive information and to opt-out of the collection of non-sensitive information. It also prohibits these companies from denying their service to users who refuse to waive their privacy rights, empowers the Federal Trade Commission to enforce these rules, and ensures we have a consistent national law regarding online privacy.
“We need one set of rules for the entire internet ecosystem with the FTC as the cop on the beat,” said Blackburn. “The FTC has the flexibility to keep up with changes in technology and its principle mission is consumer protection. The BROWSER Act will enable consumers to make more educated decisions regarding the nature of their relationship with tech companies.”
Blackburn previously introduced this bill in the House of Representatives during the 115th Congress.
Blackburn and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) on Monday called for a Federal Trade Commission investigation into online platforms over privacy concerns, data security and antitrust violations, The Tennessee Star reported.
The transcript follows:
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I think it is fair to say I’ve had a couple brushes with social media companies in the past couple years.
I will also say it is indeed a pleasure and an honor to live in a country that values freedom of speech. We see this as such a cherished constitutional right. In authoritarian countries like Russia or China, there is no such thing as free speech. If you were to voice any form of dissent or criticism, then surprise – a Communist Party official shows up at your doorstep and they take you to prison. Fortunately, we live in America.
I will tell you I think it’s time for tech companies like Google and Facebook to start embracing the spirit of the First Amendment. Not just for their own employees, but for all of the Americans who use their platforms. What value is there in platforms that are more concerned with inserting their bias than providing a neutral place for people to discuss their ideas? Companies like Facebook and Google, which have transformed society in revolutionary ways, need to recognize that with that power comes great responsibility. Facebook is a corporation, not a state actor. Yet Facebook runs a forum for debate like the town public square, except there is no mayor or sheriff who would be allowed to police conversation the way that Facebook censors conversation online.
Last June, I published an op-ed urging Silicon Valley companies to respect a diversity of opinions, and to address allegations of conservative bias on their platforms. If they truly were impartial actors encountering a series of unfortunate events, lay their case before the American public. Lay out your case. My suggestions really didn’t go over too well in Silicon Valley.
Little has changed since then. Earlier this month, Google bent the knee to employee demands to shut down its external AI ethics board because, Heaven forbid, a woman serving on the Committee was the president of a respected conservative think tank. For these employees in Silicon Valley, conservative credentials are absolutely a scarlet letter.
Unfortunately, Facebook is no different. By one count, Facebook had nearly two dozen scandals over privacy violations in 2018 alone. At some point, Facebook will have to atone for these sins. Clearly GDPR isn’t causing the company much pain. If anything, it appears to have solidified their dominance in the marketplace, while increasing barriers to entry for potential competitors. I think we should be clear that, at least here in the United States Senate, Mark Zuckerberg’s “pivot to privacy” isn’t fooling anybody. This sudden support for European-style privacy protections is disingenuous. By allowing the Europeans to force their hand when it comes to addressing content, including political speech, Facebook can cloak itself in altruistic cloth, while conveniently evading any constitutional arguments back at home.
In order to arrive at consensus on privacy, data security, and net neutrality issues, we are maintaining a bipartisan posture, both on the Commerce and Judiciary committees. This week Senator Klobuchar and I sent a letter to the FTC urging stronger action for bad actors in the tech sector. Americans are rightly concerned about who owns their Virtual You. They want to be certain that their privacy is protected; both in the physical and the virtual space. The FTC has a responsibility to hold tech companies accountable for securing their platforms.
Big Tech is accustomed to living in a bubble with the same comfortable and progressive ideas. But let me tell you right now: that bubble is bursting. When I voiced my concerns about infringements on our freedom of speech, a senior Google search engineer called me a terrorist. I was a Congressman when I voiced my concerns in 2018, and I sit before you now as a Senator and a member of this panel. No matter what, I will continue to protect the right of Americans to engage in free speech, even speech I disagree with them. I wish Big Tech would show the same respect. Whether Californians like it or not, they are going to need to work with us and negotiate with us to see how we can bring meaningful privacy reforms for the people of the United States of America. I yield back.
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