Government restrictions on online speech should be undertaken with the greatest skepticism.
But when internet companies knowingly facilitate illegal acts, such as human trafficking, that’s not speech. That’s a crime.
John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog today writes about efforts to close a loophole in the Communications Decency Act that he argues has allowed a company to get away with profiting from the sex slave trade.
Current law protects companies like Backpage.com from liability for illicit content posted by third-party users. Holding companies responsible for users’ content could prompt them to censor their users.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Ann McLane Kuster have signed on to a legislative fix, led by Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. The proposed change would only apply to companies that knowingly facilitate criminal activity through their websites. That is a high, and appropriate, standard.
It would also give victims of sex trafficking legal recourse against websites that facilitated their slavery.
As Congress considers how to close this legal loophole, it must be careful not to punish companies for the crimes of others.
When these companies decide to profit from criminal activity, they must be brought to justice.