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White House Backs Bipartisan Effort to Hold Sex Trafficking Websites Like Backpage Accountable

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 16:15
Sex trafficking victim

Bipartisan efforts to amend a key Internet law so rogue websites like Backpage can be held accountable for facilitating child sex trafficking are moving ahead rapidly with an endorsement today from the White House.

Tuesday the House of Representatives passed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) H.R 1865, sponsored by Rep. Anne Wagner (R-MO), by a vote of 388 to 25.  The House bill included key language from the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, (SESTA) S. 1693, sponsored by Rob Portman (R-OH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), which has 67 co-sponsors.

Today Press Secretary Sarah Sanders expressed Trump Administration support for the anti-sex trafficking legislation. Here is what she said:

“I’d like to highlight some positive and important work the House did on Tuesday by passing H.R. 1865.  This bill empowers federal, state, and local prosecutors to hold websites accountable for supporting the sale of sex-trafficking victims.

“As you may recall, the President and Ivanka Trump met with survivors, law enforcement officials, and victims’ advocates here at the White House.  He made it clear that this administration will fight to hold sex traffickers accountable and to ensure survivors have the support they need.

“This bill is an important step forward.  And the White House appreciates the House taking action on a bipartisan basis.”

The bill is expected to be considered by the Senate the week of March 12.

The bipartisan Congressional effort 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.

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

FOSTA, as amended and passed, would clarify 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 would:

  • Allow victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that knowingly or recklessly facilitated the crimes against them.
  • Eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws.
  • Enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to act against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.
  • Clarify 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.

If passed by Congress and signed by Trump, the law will be a major step forward not only for families of children who were trafficked, but for everyone who cares about holding tech giants accountable to the rule of law. This is a chink in the Teflon of Google and Facebook’s shield of immunity. It 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.