In a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), published today, it was revealed that five Senators – three Democrats and two Republicans – wrote letters to four big tech companies, calling for censorship of drug information. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Pinterest were contacted and accused of facilitating trade in prescription drugs and illegal narcotics.
These letters, which according to the EFF are nearly identical, were separately written but sent around the same time last month. Interestingly, the letters were announced in a mailing list to members of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP).
ASOP is a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington D.C., dedicated to “protecting consumers around the world, and combating illegal online drug sales,” among other things, as stated on the organization’s official website.
However, according to the EFF, the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies is a big pharma lobby group. Congress is exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests, so it’s impossible to know for sure whether this was a coordinated effort between the Senators and the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, or merely a coincidence.
EFF’s Jeremy Malcolm wrote the following.
“There might well be a case to be made for tighter regulation of sales of prescription and non-prescription drugs online. But to progress from that proposition to the proposal that information about such drugs should be censored from search engines and online marketplaces, and without a court order at that, is quite a leap.”
Furthermore, Malcolm stressed the fact that U.S. Senators have taken it upon themselves to censor content on privately-owned platforms, which is a form of shadow regulation, meant to intimidate Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Pinterest into compliance. Instead of creating a bill aimed at censoring privately-owned platforms, the Senators have chosen to abuse the official authority that their offices represent, Malcolm claims, because they knew Congress could never pass such a likely unconstitutional law.
The letters were signed and sent by:
- Republican Chuck Grassley, senior United States Senator from Iowa
- Democrat Diane Feinstein, senior United States Senator from California
- Democrat Amy Klobuchar, senior United States Senator from Minnesota
- Republican John Kennedy, junior United States Senator from Louisiana
- Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, junior United States Senator from Rhode Island
The letters urge tech companies to manipulate and effectively censor, organic search results. Furthermore, it is stated in the letters that those searching for substances are to be automatically redirected to approved U.S.-based suppliers.
According to the New York Times, the opioid epidemic is the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old. In 2016 alone, opioids killed more people than car accidents or guns. The Obama administration pulled back the federal war on drugs, but Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions have, according to Vox, reinvigorated it.