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Craigslist and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Search for Internet Neutrality Continues

Progress on Health Privacy

Featured on Policy Beta

Vilnius, Lithuania - John Morris and Cynthia Wong are in Vilnius this week, at the Internet Governance Forum. We compiled some CDT resources on Internet governance and other international aspects of Internet policy.

September 22 - Jim Dempsey will testify about the Electronic Communications Privacy Act at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. CDT coordinates the Digital Due Process coalition, which has put forth principles for updating ECPA in response to technological change.


Congress returns to Washington this week, with cybersecurity legislation on its agenda. Passage remains uncertain, but we'll keep you apprised of any movement. Meanwhile, we have been active defending Web 2.0 platforms from liability and helping HHS craft strong rules for health privacy.

Craigslist and the Law of Unintended Consequences

State Attorneys General have been attacking Craigslist recently over its "adult services" ads. As we have noted before, under current federal law, platforms such as Craigslist are not legally liable for the content created by others and have no legal responsibility to monitor or remove such advertisements. The posters of the ads, however, are liable for any illegal activity, and Craigslist can be compelled to cooperate with criminal investigations. Web 2.0 services have proliferated because of that balance of responsibilities.

Imposing liability on intermediaries endangers this innovative model. Earlier this year, CDT released a major paper on the importance of protecting Internet platforms from liability.

The AGs crusade against Craigslist is yielding some unintended consequences at odds with the goal of curbing illegal prostitution. In the past week, under continuing pressure from the AGs, Craigslist removed its "adult services" category; the AGs claimed victory.

The "victory," however, is likely to backfire. CDT's John Morris points out, it seems 100% certain that adult ads will now flow back to the non-adult categories on Craigslist. So the AGs have unintentionally made it harder for law enforcement to police the adult ads, made it harder for filtering companies to block the ads, and made it much more likely that innocent Craigslist users, including kids, will encounter unwanted material.

Search for Internet Neutrality Continues

Internet neutrality has been the focus of many private discussions in Washington over the last month or two. The FCC tried hosting a series of stakeholder negotiations in an effort to find consensus on workable "net neutrality" rules; Google and Verizon jointly proposed a policy framework; and the trade group ITI has been trying to develop a compromise.

Amidst all the backroom discussions, it's worth noting that the FCC is still plugging away with public proceedings. The Commission recently released a notice, summarizing its process to date and calling for public comments on the treatment of "specialized" services and wireless access.

Progress on Health Privacy

CDT's Deven McGraw, one of the country's leading experts on health privacy, has been chairing for the Department of Health and Human Services a "Tiger Team" on privacy and security. The purpose of the team was to quickly address some of the key roadblocks to adoption of electronic health records. Last month, working under a very tight deadline, the team produced privacy recommendations for the electronic exchange of health information among providers. The federal Health IT Policy Committee promptly approved the team's recommendations and passed them on to the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT, which is implementing a major law intended to promote adoption of information technology in the health care field.

In a separate action, CDT coordinated a set of comments, signed by various consumer advocates, suggesting improvements in other HHS regulations on health privacy. CDT urged HHS to require patient consent for all marketing communications, and to require agreements between health care providers and third parties to strictly limit the uses of patient data. CDT also recommended that HHS develop a comprehensive approach to patient privacy for research, and to require health care providers to give patients copies of their electronic health records within three business days after the patient requests the records. The full set of comments can be found here.

Do You Know I Can Stalk You?

Check out this great guest post from the founders of I Can Stalk You, exploring the dangerous implications of unfettered location-data sharing.

Online Customer Service Threatened by Lawsuit

CDT joined other public interest groups in filing an amicus brief in a case that, perversely, could discourage owners of online forums from engaging in customer service.

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