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Shielding ISPs from criminal liability

A congressman introduces legislation designed to guarantee that Internet service providers will not be held liable for the actions of third-party users.

A new bill is floating in Congress, and this time it's not about spam or privacy, but rather the criminal liability of Internet service providers.

Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced legislation Tuesday designed to guarantee that Internet service providers will not be held liable under federal law for the criminal actions of third-party users.

Under current law, ISPs are protected from civil liability under federal and state law for content posted by a third party, according to Goodlatte. He said he hopes the bill will establish a uniform standard.

"The Internet has provided us with an unprecedented new venue...Unfortunately, there are those who also view the Internet as a new way to commit crimes," Goodlatte said in a statement. "When confronting crime on the Internet, we must maintain strong criminal penalties for those who commit crimes, while setting a uniform standard for ISP liability."

The Online Liability Standardization Act of 2002 comes after a criminal investigation of a New York-based ISP. Last year, BuffNet was charged with a misdemeanor for facilitating child pornography because its server allowed access to a bulletin board containing pornographic images. In February 2001, the company pleaded guilty and a judge ordered BuffNet to pay a $5,000 fine, according to a published report.

Goodlatte said his bill would only apply to content provided by third parties, not to content that ISPs create themselves or with others. In addition, the bill does not apply in cases where a senior employee knew about the illegal activity.

Goodlatte sits as chairman of the House Republican High Technology Working Group as well as co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Internet Caucus. He also serves on the House Republican Cyber-Security Team.