April 21, 2024

Gov. DeSantis announces Digital Bill of Rights to protect Floridians from Big Tech surveillance, censorship

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Wednesday new digital rights that the state government will recognize to better protect Floridians against Big Tech surveillance and censorship.

The new “Digital Bill of Rights” will enshrine rights for those who use certain online platforms to better “protect Floridians from Big Tech harm and Big Tech overreaches,” DeSantis said during a press conference in West Palm Beach.

“We want to protect your right as a Floridian to have private, in-person conversations without Big Tech surveilling you,” DeSantis said at an event on Wednesday. “If you want to consent to let them have this information so they can fashion advertising based off of it, it’s your right to consent to do so but it should only be if you consent.”

“We are also going to protect the right to participate in online platforms without unfair censorship,” the Republican governor continued. “We want free speech.”

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“We want to protect the right to know how these internet search engines are manipulating search results [and have] transparency in terms of what they’re doing so you can evaluate if that’s a search engine that you want to use or maybe you want to take your business elsewhere.”

“We want the right to protect all of your personal on the largest and most common platforms,” he continued, mentioning Google and Facebook by name. “They take that data and make a fortune. They should get authorization from you before they are able to monetize that or use it in any way.”

“And, finally, the Digital Bill of Rights aims to protect children from various online harms and, as we that’s a huge issue,” DeSantis said, drawing applause from the crowd.

The Sunshine State leader further broke down each point, specifying that Florida’s government would no longer allow tech companies to collect information from personal conversations β€” as many devices randomly collect information after being prompted by certain words and phrases.

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DeSantis also explained the difference between the federal government listening in on these devices via wiretap, which legally requires a court warrant to do so, but “for private companies, if you use their product they can just do it.”

“So, we’re going to put in a roadblock that says they can’t do that without your expressed authorization,” he added.

“We’re also going to prohibit the unauthorized data collection and retention of real-time information about a user through cell phones such as GPS location, biometric data and other personally identified information,” the governor said.

DeSantis noted that the new Digital Bill of Rights comes amid a larger push by his administration against Big Tech and the control they have to censor users and control the content they promote, or the content they see on their platforms.

DeSantis reminded the crowd that Florida currently has legislation pending in the courts that would allow consumers to take action against tech companies that unfairly discriminate.

“A couple of years ago, we were the first state to take the lead to protect Floridians against Big Tech censorship and we passed legislation that did a couple of things,” he said. “We knew there would be litigation and would have to be decided by the Supreme Court but we decided some provisions of law that said these tech platforms and these social media companies are not β€” by their own admission β€” publishers.”

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The Florida governor said companies like Facebook and Twitter claim to be public forums but operate heavy-handedly to censor certain political views or accounts of conservative figures.

“They are not publishers, because if they were publishers, they would not get Section 230 liability from lawsuits so they hide under Section 230, saying they are not publishers, saying they are open forums, and yet, as we know with what has come out without a shadow of a doubt they are not functioning truly as open platforms,” he continued.

“They have terms and conditions and they have certain rules, but those rules are applied with a thumb on the scale against the people they disagree with politically. So you have seen people who have conservative views marginalized entirely, banned, de-platformed, shadowbanned and all these different things,” the Republican said.

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He added: “So, what we have said is in the state of Florida we have consumer protection and unfair trade practice laws. If you are advertising as being an open platform, you are taking that liability that says you are not a publisher, you’re monetizing by taking people’s data who join your services and then if you turn around and de-platform someone based on viewpoint, you’re committing a fraud on the consumer. So, we wanted the Floridians who have been affected to be able to bring consumer fraud actions against Big Tech. We also empowered the attorney general of Florida to be able to police Big Tech if they were doing this. We also have protections for political candidates so they could not de-platform a political candidate.”

This legislation is pending in the courts and is awaiting consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“If you’re an open platform, you can set whatever rules you want, but if you’re setting rules and not enforcing them equally, based on viewpoint, you are committing fraud on the public and there should be a way for people to hold you accountable.”

DeSantis further summarized the Digital Bill of Rights in a post on Twitter.

“Floridians have the right to: Private conversations without surveillance by Big Tech, participate online without unfair censorship, see internet search engines manipulation, control personal data, [and] protect children from online harms,” he wrote after the press conference.

DeSantis has served as Florida’s 46th governor since he was elected in 2019. He is widely supported but has not yet said one way or the other if he intends to run for the White House in 2024.

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