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Justices May Protect Tech Firms From Suits Over Aiding Terrorism

Supreme Court justices seemed to favor tech companies in litigation over their liability for aiding terrorist acts. Several court members in a Wednesday hearing appeared concerned that a sweeping ruling could undercut prosecutorial tools the government has relied rely on in the war on terror. During a second day of arguments on cases about ISIS’s use of social media platforms for recruiting, the justices discussed whether to allow suits against companies over claims they aided and abetted deadly terrorist attacks around the world, reports Politico. Justices suggested evidence that ISIS posted recruitment videos on Twitter was not enough to link the social media company to specific attacks in a way that could back lawsuits by victims and their families. “At a certain point, it becomes too attenuated to support aiding and abetting,” said Justice Samuel Alito.


The case argued Wednesday involved the death of a Jordanian man in an ISIS terrorist attack. It questions whether Twitter, Google and Facebook can be liable under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act for allegedly aiding and abetting terrorists by sharing ISIS recruitment content on their platforms. A case argued Tuesday asked whether the use of algorithms to recommend ISIS videos on Google’s YouTube is protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields internet companies from being liable for most third-party content. Justice Elena Kagan said prosecutors have traditionally sought to target criminal enterprises by going after bankers and accountants who support them. She suggested Twitter could be even more vital to terrorist groups like ISIS. “What’s the difference?” Kagan asked. “We’re used to thinking about banks as providing very important services to terrorists. Maybe ... various kinds of social media platforms also provide very important services to terrorists and if you know that you’re providing a very important service to terrorists,” you could be liable, she added. Several justices said companies providing widely-available services to many customers should have more insulation from lawsuits than individuals or small businesses providing face-to-face services like accounting or banking, which may require verifying customer identities.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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