Jeff Kosseff

Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity Law at U.S. Naval Academy

Fast Facts

Jeff Kosseff

Cybersecurity scholar

Industry: Law
Key previous position: First Amendment lawyer
Education: U of Michigan; Georgetown Law
Notable fact: Worked as a journalist from 2004 to 2008

NJ50 Profile

When Jeff Kosseff, a professor of cybersecurity law at the U.S. Naval Academy, realized his book was getting a shout-out in a congressional hearing from the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he was delighted.

Never mind that the shout-out wasn’t particularly positive. “All publicity is good publicity,” Kosseff said, laughing.

A journalist-turned-lawyer, Kosseff resolved several years ago to write the history of an arcane little statute few outside the tech community had ever heard of—Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, or in Kosseff’s description, The 26 Words That Created the Internet.

Passed by Congress in 1996, Section 230 protects tech companies like Facebook and Twitter from being held legally liable for most forms of content posted by users on their platforms. Unfettered by the fear of lawsuits, the tiny provision let tech companies open the door to a flood of free expression online.

When Kosseff began work several years ago, he was unaware of a gathering storm brewing around Section 230. But as violent, hateful, harassing, and illegal content proliferates online, Washington policymakers of all stripes are now eager to carve up the statute. 

“I had no idea any of this was going to happen,” Kosseff said. 

The October hearing was a good indicator of which way the political winds are blowing. Rep. Greg Walden suggested Kosseff’s book should have referenced “the 83 words that can preserve the internet,” arguing that the current debate ignores a portion of the statute that requires the removal of harmful content. 

Kosseff suggests Walden’s criticism is indicative of an ongoing inability of some in government and the media to understand the statute.

“He wanted to include part of Section 230 in the title that is barely ever cited by courts,” Kosseff said. “I am in fact aware of the other portion of Section 230. And I do know how to use word count.”

Kosseff says he fields calls from congressional staffers “pretty regularly” on how Section 230 interacts with the ever-growing influence of Silicon Valley. But, he says, he’s not here to take sides.

“I’m advocating for people to be informed about it,” he said. “There really is a lot of misinformation out there. And I think whatever changes to Section 230 are made, they have to really be informed and grounded in fact.”
Brendan Bordelon