Deputizing Online Corporations as We Move Toward a Totalitarian State


Arguably, this article by John McKinnon was misplaced in the Business section of a recent Wall Street Journal:

A dispute over how to deter a flourishing online sex trade is likely to escalate into a high-profile policy battle in 2018, adding to political headaches for big tech.

Lawmakers for months have been working on ways to address the issue, which has its roots in a 1990s law that gives websites and other online businesses broad legal immunity for activity of their users. The law has provided legal cover for adult classified-ad sites such as to develop into big businesses, shielding them from lawsuits by victims as well as prosecution and other actions by local authorities.

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To be sure, there exists a line across which a Web site or search engine is actually using the openness of its network as cover to conduct or facilitate illegal business.  That such a line is there, though, doesn’t mean it should be so broad or vague that we essentially deputize online companies to seek out illegal behavior among their users.

One thing that seems to underlie this issue is our confused understanding of freedom.  Because we refuse to accept cultural limits on our behavior, we wind up asking government to harden the barriers to that which remains unacceptable and, in this case, to deputize corporations and give them responsibility for investigating and prosecuting us.  Keep in mind that responsibility to do something goes hand in hand with authority to do it.

The regime toward which we’re headed is one in which the government protects behavior and lifestyles it likes, forbidding people (and their businesses) from discriminating against them, while the government also authorizes and even pressures corporations or other organizations (like colleges) to seek out behavior the government doesn’t like and persecute it.

Put this question in the context of smartphone apps used for purchases and services that the Chinese government is looking to transform into a means of controlling the public through behavior incentives. McKinnon’s article actually shares the page with another misplaced article, by Alyssa Abkowitz, about the possibility of those very same apps’ becoming official state IDs.

If you’re looking for something to resist in 2018, this totalitarian trend should be at the top of your list.

  • guest

    ” forbidding people (and their businesses) from discriminating against them,”,,,sounds terrible Justin. Let’s go back to a time where this was acceptable.

    • Justin Katz

      So you believe in a de facto theocracy then? What we’re seeing is the government arbitrarily deciding what groups and what qualities permit discrimination. But even were that completely even, you’d be advocating against free will.

      • guest

        You really don’t the think the decisions of the Supreme Court are arbitrary, do you? I think I’ve been misreading some of your signals, I wouldn’t think you would have a problem moving the the direction of a theocracy, as long as it’s your God.

        • Justin Katz

          Of course I think the Supreme Court makes arbitrary decisions sometimes, maybe often. More importantly, the Supreme Court isn’t supposed to make the law, that’s supposed to be left to representative democracy.

          As for theocracy, being an actual believer in the God in whom I believe, I’m confident He will win people over on a fair and honest playing field without need of government imposition. Indeed, much of my suspicion of progressives’ policies and ideological statements arises by their demonstrated need to impose them at the point of a gun.