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This photo combo of images shows, clockwise, from upper left: a Google sign, the Twitter app, YouTube TV logo and the Facebook app. VOA

U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday questioned whether Facebook, Google and other major online platforms still need the immunity from legal liability that has prevented them from being sued over material their users post.

“No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts. They have become titans,” Barr said at a public meeting held by the Justice Department to examine the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.


“Given this changing technological landscape, valid questions have been raised about whether Section 230’s broad immunity is necessary, at least in its current form,” he said.

Section 230 says online companies such as Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of information they provide. This largely exempts them from liability involving content posted by users, although they can be held liable for content that violates criminal or intellectual property law.

Barr’s comments offered insight into how regulators in Washington are reconsidering the need for incentives that once helped online companies grow but are increasingly viewed as impediments to curbing online crime, hate speech and extremism.


U.S. Attorney General William Barr arrives for U.S. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. VOA

The increased size and power of online platforms has also left consumers with fewer options, and the lack of feasible alternatives is a relevant discussion, Barr said, adding that the Section 230 review came out of the Justice Department’s broader look at potential anticompetitive practices at tech companies.

Lawmakers from both major political parties have called for Congress to change Section 230 in ways that could expose tech companies to more lawsuits or significantly increase their costs.

Lawmakers’ concerns

Some Republicans have expressed concern that Section 230 prevents them from taking action against internet services that remove conservative political content, while a few Democratic leaders have said the law allows the services to escape punishment for harboring misinformation and extremist content.

Barr said the department would not advocate a position at the meeting. But he hinted at the idea of allowing the U.S. government to act against recalcitrant platforms, saying it was “questionable” whether Section 230 should prevent the American government from suing platforms when it is “acting to protect American citizens.”

Others at the meeting floated different ideas.

The attorney general of Nebraska, Doug Peterson, noted that the law does not shield platforms from federal criminal prosecution; the immunity helps protect against civil claims or a state-level prosecution. Peterson said the exception should be widened to allow state-level action as well. Addressing the tech industry, he called it a “pretty simple solution” that would allow local officials “to clean up your industry instead of waiting for your industry to clean up itself.”

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which counts Google and Facebook among its members, said such a solution would result in tech giants having to obey 50 separate sets of laws governing user content.

He suggested law enforcement’s energies might be better spent pursuing the millions of tips that the tech industry sent over every year, only a small fraction of which, he noted, resulted in investigations.


Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general speaks to reporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. VOA

“There appears to be some asymmetry there,” he said.

Others argued that different rules should apply to different platforms, with larger websites enjoying fewer protections than internet upstarts.

“With great scale comes great responsibility,” said David Chavern, of the News Media Alliance, whose members have bristled as Google and Facebook have gutted journalism’s business model.

How to distinguish

But other panelists argued that distinguishing one site from another might be tricky. For example, would platforms like Reddit or Wikipedia, which have large reach but shoestring staffs, be counted as big sites or small ones?

The panelists also briefly debated encryption, another area over which Barr has pressed the tech industry to change its modus operandi. Facebook in particular has drawn the ire of U.S. officials over its plans to secure its popular messaging platform.

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Kate Klonick, a law professor at St. John’s University in New York, urged caution.

“This is a massive norm-setting period,” she said, with any alterations to one of the internet’s key legal frameworks likely to draw unexpected consequences. “It’s hard to know exactly what the ramifications might be.” (VOA)


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Surgeons attached a pig kidney to a pair of large blood vessels outside the body of a deceased recipient so they could observe it for two days, and the kidney did what it was supposed to do.

Scientists temporarily attached a pig's kidney to a human body and watched it begin to work, a small step in the decades-long quest to one day use animal organs for lifesaving transplants.

Pigs have been the most recent research focus to address the organ shortage, but among the hurdles: A sugar in pig cells, foreign to the human body, causes immediate organ rejection. The kidney for this experiment came from a gene-edited animal, engineered to eliminate that sugar and avoid an immune system attack.

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Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Killer Smog in Delhi.

Developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, a Decision Support System (DSS) that extends the ability of the existing air quality early warning system (AQEWS) to have decision-making capability for air quality management in Delhi-NCR was launched on Tuesday.

The website for the DSS (https://ews.tropmet.res.in/dss/) is designed to help the Commission for Air Quality Management for NCR and Adjoining Areas (CAQM) by delivering quantitative information about the contribution of emissions from Delhi and its 19 surrounding districts; the contribution of emissions from eight different sectors in Delhi; and the contribution from biomass-burning activities in the neighbouring states.

These information would assist in managing the air quality in a timely manner, a release from the Ministry of Earth Sciences said.

The need was stated by the CAQM, which was formed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, during a meeting held in January 2021.

Recently, the Commission reviewed the progress made by IITM and had in principle approved the current version of DSS for air quality management in the Delhi-NCR. The IITM has also developed a new website for DSS with the entire system made operational, the release said.

Union Minister of State for Earth Sciences, Jitendra Singh, while launching the website for AQEWS on the occasion of 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav' week organised by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, said, "DSS is a significant contribution to 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav' on behalf of MoES and IITM and suggestions are invited on this issue."

The website also has a feature whereby the users can create their own emission reduction scenarios (from 20 different districts, including Delhi) so as to examine the possible projected improvement in air quality in Delhi for the next five days.

"This information would explicitly highlight the most important emission sources responsible for the degradation of air quality in Delhi and suggest possible solutions to ameliorate the same. With a plethora of quantitative data, the AQEWS integrated with DSS could become a user-friendly tool for air-quality management in and around Delhi," the release said. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Delhi, India, Pollution, IITM, Ministry of Earth Sciences


Photo by GOI.

On the first day of the two-day meeting of BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders on Tuesday, discussions were held on important issues related to education and the National Education Policy-2020

On the first day of the two-day meeting of BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders on Tuesday, discussions were held on important issues related to education and the National Education Policy-2020. Apart from senior RSS leader Suresh Soni, representatives of various organisations associated with the Sangh Parivar -- working in the field of education -- were present in the meeting in New Delhi.

According to sources, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who attended the meeting on behalf of the government, shared information related to the National Education Policy-2020 and the government's policy on important issues related to the education sector. Pradhan also shared details of the efforts being made by the government in the field of education.

Discussions were also held regarding the impact of the situation arising out of Corona and how much it has affected the education sector. In the meeting, the RSS leaders asked several questions and provided suggestions to the Union Minister regarding the education policy of the government.

According to the sources, RSS wants the policy to be implemented expeditiously. All aspects related to the policy were discussed in Tuesday's meeting. On the second and the last day of the meeting on Wednesday, special issues related to education will be discussed in which representatives of various organisations of the Sangh, Union Ministers and several BJP leaders will be take part.

Meanwhile, in order to convey its point of view to the government on various issues, the Sangh keeps on calling such coordination meetings related to specific issues, in which RSS representatives -- working in that particular area -- provide feedback to the government. (IANS/JB)


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