Joe Biden Sworn in As President: What Does This Mean for Digital Rights?

Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. We look at some of the digital issues that could be affected moving forward.

It’s been four years of chaos and carnage under the Donald Trump administration. After nearly four years of constant whining and hurt feelings on Twitter, the twice impeached president is finally one more step to being swept away into the dustbin of history.

Of course, Joe Biden, the incoming president, has been handed an America on the ropes. Four years of death, destruction, and chaos can very easily take a toll on a country.

First, the death. COVID-19 has been left virtually unchecked to run rampant across the country. More than 400,000 are now dead due to the deadly disease. Nearly 25 million more are infected by the virus. There is the threat of mutations making their way into the country that could exacerbate the crisis.

Then there is the destruction. Domestic terrorists are still out there threatening to, among other things, assassinate officials they politically disagree with and organize further insurrections. So many American’s have been mentally poisoned by QAnon lies and extreme right wing propaganda that, for a number of them, they have seemingly been divorced from reality. Even now, Trump told his supporters that they are part of a long journey, suggesting that he will continue to exert influence on these mobs of insurrectionists.

Finally, there is the chaos. On the international stage, Trump has caused a lot of damage to America in the eyes of the world. First, the leaving of the Paris Climate Agreement, then the abandonment of the World Health Organization. It was a strong message that America is no longer going to act as a responsible country, but rather, go rogue and ignore the consequences of their actions. It’s a sentiment that echo’s Trumps favourite line, “I take no responsibility”.

Of course, there are spinoff crises as well. There’s the crisis of a lack of aid from COVID-19. This has resulted in a very real fear of people being evicted due to lack of finances. There are businesses out there that are either suffering greatly or forced into bankruptcy due to the pandemic. On top of that all, there is a national debt that is spiraling out of control from yet another high spending Republican government – another financial mess that Democrats have to, once again, clean up once all the other problems have been sorted.

In short, thanks to four years of Trump, it’s going to take a lot to fix all the damage that was caused in four years. So, suffice to say, Biden is in for a very tough and busy presidency.

Of course, lost in all of this are the various digital issues that are still present. One issue that might be lost on some people is the TikTok ban. Currently, that mess is sitting in a sort of legal limbo thanks partly due to Trump blowing past countless self-imposed deadlines. According to Business Insider, the mood is that Biden might abandon the effort to ban the platform:

  • Joe Biden will likely abandon President Trump’s heated battle to ban TikTok from the US, say experts.
  • Trump administration agreed a delay to a lawsuit over it until weeks after he leaves office.
  • Experts say this extension signals the bid to ban it is over, as Biden is far less likely to fight for it.

That will, indeed, be good news for those who use the platform for communications purposes. What that means for all those deals to try and buy the platform, though, remains unclear. Still, it is a sign that this problem is going to finally start getting resolved.

Another issue is network neutrality. The damage of gutting the regulations that helped to protect the Internet has been devastating for supporters of digital rights. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are now free to pick winners and losers on the Internet market because they represent a choke point from a data and access perspective. As we noted late last year, Biden seems poised to restore network neutrality when he nominates a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairperson to replace the controversial chair, Ajit Pai.

While that is more good news, a bed of roses does contain thorns. One such thorn would be the issue surrounding Section 230. Right up to the very end, Trump has been attempting to kill Section 230. Of course, Section 230 is a critical law that supports free speech. As a result, many digital rights observers have been quite anxious over that.

While an outright repeal seems unlikely, the incoming Biden administration doesn’t seem poised to do the right thing and leave the law alone. Instead, some reports suggest that Biden intends on opening the law up and add new liabilities for various platforms. This in response to disinformation campaigns as well as the January 6 terrorist attack by Trump supporters. While most agree that accountability needs to happen because of the attack, most digital rights observers point out that reforming Section 230 is not the right approach.

To add to this is the war on encryption. Throughout the Trump administration, there appeared to be bi-partisan support to force companies to compromise their security by implementing back door access. EARN IT, as we know, died when the last session ended. The legislation was, indeed, watered down just prior to passage, but digital rights advocates point out that it still remained a threat to security. A question might be whether the incoming Biden administration will resurrect this bill from the dead and make it a threat to people’s online security again – this at the behest of international spy organizations.

In addition to that, Democrats have traditionally been heavily backed by major record labels and Hollywood. So, that puts the question in the air of whether or not Democrats intend on further needlessly tightening copyright laws as well.

At the very least, that might have implications to try and reverse the felony streaming bill and the CASE Act – both of which made their way into the NDAA. Still, digital rights advocates have vowed to fight both pieces of legislation anyway. So, it’ll be interesting to see how that battle ultimately shapes up.

The inauguration of Biden does have that air of a return to sanity for sure. Still, not all changes are expected to be good. At this stage, we are seeing a mixed bag. Perhaps one hope is that things are so bad in America, that Biden might not have a chance to do something like reforming Section 230. It’s a long shot, but it’s a possibility at this stage.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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