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Consumer Watchdog Welcomes Law That Holds Websites Like Backpage Accountable for Sex Trafficking

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 04:03
Trump signs SESTA/FOSTA

LOS ANGELES – Consumer Watchdog today welcomed President Trump’s signing of FOSTA/SESTA into law, calling it a major victory for victims of Internet sex trafficking and their families, as well as for those hoping to hold technology companies more accountable for the content on their websites.

Stopping the abuses by the notorious website Backpage, which was shown to facilitate child sex trafficking, was a key motivation for backers of the law, passed by Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. Last week the government seized Backpage’s website and charged key executives with conspiracy, facilitating prostitution and money laundering.

For almost a year, Consumer Watchdog has worked with supporters of this landmark legislation, including Nacole S., a trafficking victim’s mother, and Mary Mazzio, producer of the documentary film, I am Jane Doe, which details Backpage’s abuses.

"The signing of this legislation into law will have long range consequences not only for protection of individuals and families online, but also for a needed re-evaluation of these companies’ duties to police their platforms to make sure the public isn’t taken advantage of by criminal enterprises or illegal activity," said John M. Simpson, Privacy Project Director at Consumer Watchdog.

Last month, the Senate voted 97-to-2 to pass the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) H.R 1865, which cleared the House earlier on a vote of 388-to-25 after it was amended to include language from the Senate’s Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA).

The passage of FOSTA/SESTA into law shows federal policymakers are finally beginning to hold Silicon Valley and the Tech industry accountable for their actions, instead of taking a hands-off approach in the name of promoting innovation, Consumer Watchdog said.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has been interpreted by the courts to mean that websites are not liable for content posted on them by third parties.  FOSTA/SESTA would allow websites like the notorious Backpage to be held accountable for facilitating sex trafficking.  

Google and Facebook initially led the opposition to amending CDA Sec. 230, claiming the Act promotes and protects free expression on the Internet, but a U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations staff report shows that sites like Backpage aid and abet under-age sex traffickers enabled by the blanket protection of CDA as the courts interpreted it. By one count, 73% of child trafficking reports in the United States involve Backpage.

“Internet freedom must not come at the expense of children who are sex trafficked,” said Simpson. “Just as the First Amendment does not allow you to shout fire in a crowded movie house, or to assist hit men and drug dealers in their criminal activity, CDA Section 230 cannot continue to allow Internet oligarchs like Facebook and Google to shirk their social responsibility so they can fatten their bottom lines.”

FOSTA/SESTA as passed clarified Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to ensure that websites that knowingly or recklessly facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable so that victims can get justice. The bipartisan bill:
•Allows victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that knowingly or recklessly facilitated the crimes against them.
•Eliminates federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws.
•Enables state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to act against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.
•Clarifies that section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does not impair or limit victims of sex trafficking from using their private right of action against the websites that sell them.


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