House panel asks Trump trade official to testify on legal protections for tech platforms

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is asking U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to testify about the administration’s effort to include controversial language protecting internet platforms from legal liability in international trade agreements.

Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) issued a statement on Monday inviting Lighthizer to appear before the panel in its hearing on the issue next week.

“As provisions similar to Section 230 are included in trade agreements, it’s important for the Committee to hear directly from Ambassador Lighthizer about how these provisions may affect the ability of the United States and our trading partners to enforce existing laws or write new ones,” Pallone said.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A growing chorus of lawmakers has called for reexamining the law that shields internet platforms from legal liability for content posted by their users. That protection, enshrined in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and commonly referred to as Section 230, was codified in the Trump administration’s United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) that’s currently awaiting congressional approval.

With tech companies under growing scrutiny in Washington, some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have suggested that internet platforms have abused the protections they’re afforded under Section 230.

Pallone and his Republican counterpart on the committee, Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), wrote to Lighthizer in August asking him to keep Section 230-style language out of future trade talks.

“As you may know, the effects of Section 230 and the appropriate role of such a liability shield have become the subject of much debate in recent years,” they wrote. “While we take no view on that debate in this letter, we find it inappropriate for the United States to export language mirroring Section 230 while such serious policy discussions are ongoing.”

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