Description: The Cooper Davis Act, a bill aimed at combating criminal drug activity online, faces criticism as it heads to the U.S. Senate floor. Privacy advocates express concerns about potential broad internet surveillance, while proponents argue it will help crack down on illicit drug markets on social media platforms.
The Cooper Davis Act, a highly debated piece of legislation, is making its way to the U.S. Senate floor after receiving approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill proposes compelling tech companies to report web users to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) if they are suspected of engaging in criminal drug activity. Privacy advocates argue that the bill could lead to extensive internet surveillance, while its supporters believe it will aid in combating the proliferation of illicit drug markets on social media platforms.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-5 in favor of advancing the Cooper Davis Act, named after a Kansas teenager who tragically died of a fentanyl overdose in 2021. The bill will now proceed to the Senate floor, where it will be subject to further debate and a general vote.
Numerous advocacy groups, which had previously expressed concerns about the passage of this legislation, swiftly condemned the committee’s decision. Cody Venzke, the senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), voiced his discontent, stating that the Cooper Davis Act would expand law enforcement’s access to user data, undermine Constitutional statutory warrant requirements, and exacerbate existing racial disparities in drug enforcement. Venzke argued that platforms should not be deputized as DEA informants and warned that the bill could potentially cause more harm than good. The ACLU urges the full Senate to reject this approach.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), another organization actively lobbying against the bill, released a statement through its Surveillance Litigation Director, Andrew Crocker. Crocker expressed disappointment with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s decision, citing concerns about the bill’s potential to weaken privacy laws and threaten online safety. He pointed out that the vague requirements and criminal penalties in the bill might lead to companies over-reporting innocent users for protected speech. Additionally, Crocker highlighted the bill’s encouragement for companies to undermine encryption, potentially resulting in extensive scanning of private user communications. With no warrant requirement, limited user protections, and no required notice, Crocker believes the bill should be defeated on the Senate floor.
Under the provisions of the Cooper Davis Act, tech platforms would be obligated to report users suspected of drug infringements directly to the DEA, providing detailed reports that include personal information on the user. Failure to comply with this regulation could lead to significant fines and liability for non-compliant platforms.
Critics argue that the legislation poses a significant threat to internet privacy and may enable broad surveillance programs that circumvent Fourth Amendment protections for web users. They also express concerns that the inclusion of liability for tech companies that turn a blind eye to drug activity might discourage the provision of privacy-protecting services like end-to-end encryption.
Cody Venzke from the ACLU expressed hope that the Senate leadership will exercise wisdom in deciding the fate of the bill. With limited time before the August recess, there is pressure to accomplish various tasks, but Venzke remains optimistic that the Senate will recognize the need to strike the right balance between the bill’s goals and protecting privacy and freedom of expression online.
The Cooper Davis Act, a bill aiming to combat criminal drug activity on the internet, has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and will soon be discussed and voted upon on the Senate floor. Privacy advocates and various organizations have expressed concerns about the potential ramifications of the bill, including increased surveillance and the undermining of user privacy. The Senate’s decision on the Cooper Davis Act will ultimately determine its impact on online privacy and law enforcement efforts in tackling illicit drug markets.