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US Senators float bill to hold Backpage liable for trafficking

21:06  01 august  2017
21:06  01 august  2017 Source:   usatoday.com

Senate Crackdown on Online Sex Trafficking Hits Opposition

  Senate Crackdown on Online Sex Trafficking Hits Opposition Technology companies and digital rights groups say a bill aimed at online predators could potentially infringe on freedom of speech on the internet. But Senate staff members involved in the bill’s development said that they had made an effort to work with tech companies concerned about modifying the decency act. “We did our due diligence, met these folks on a bipartisan basis for months, and yet they offered no constructive feedback,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Portman. “It’s sad that they’d oppose a narrowly crafted, two-page bill to help stop online sex trafficking of women and children.

Bill aims to alter Communications Decency Act to make it easier for sex trafficking victims to sue online classified sites like Backpage .com. The proposed bill would amend the Communications Decency Act to eliminate a provision that shields operators of websites from being liable for content posted by third-party users. In addition to removing liability protections for websites that facilitate “unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims,” lawmakers are seeking to amend the CDA to allow state prosecutors — not just federal law enforcement — to take action against individuals and businesses

The Senate voted 96-0 to hold Backpage in civil contempt after it did not comply with a subpoena to hand over documents explaining how it combats sex trafficking in ads on the adult section of its website. The site is the second-largest online classified ad service in the United States after The vote arose from a subpoena request from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which for months has asked Backpage to provide information on how the company screens postings for sex trafficking . Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and the panel's chairman, and Senator Claire McCaskill

Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer appears on Capitol Hill on Jan. 10, 2017, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent subcommittee on Investigations hearing into Backpage.com.© Cliff Owen, AP Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer appears on Capitol Hill on Jan. 10, 2017, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent subcommittee on Investigations hearing into Backpage.com.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday that aims to make it easier to sue and criminally prosecute operators of online classified sites like Backpage.com that have been used to advertise sex workers.

The proposed bill would amend the Communications Decency Act to eliminate a provision that shields operators of websites from being liable for content posted by third-party users.

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"I am proud to join Senator Portman’s bill to put a stop to businesses that would promote or enable the heinous industry of human trafficking ,” Sen Cruz said. "There is zero tolerance for those who engage in the abuse and victimization of trafficking , in Texas or anywhere. I am hopeful that this bill will Our bipartisan investigation showed that Backpage knowingly facilitated sex trafficking on its website to increase its own profits, all at the expense of vulnerable women and young girls,” Sen . Portman said. “For too long, courts around the country have ruled that Backpage can continue to facilitate illegal sex

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In addition to removing liability protections for websites that facilitate “unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims,” lawmakers are seeking to amend the CDA to allow state prosecutors — not just federal law enforcement — to take action against individuals and businesses that use websites to violate federal sex trafficking laws.

"For too long, courts around the country have ruled that Backpage can continue to facilitate illegal sex trafficking online with no repercussions," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. "The Communications Decency Act is a well-intentioned law, but it was never intended to help protect sex traffickers who prey on the most innocent and vulnerable among us. This bipartisan, narrowly crafted bill will help protect vulnerable women and young girls from these horrific crimes.”

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Backpage alleges that these websites, which syndicated Backpage content, were merely meant to draw more traffic to Backpage .com. Most of the major credit-card companies were accepted on Backpage .com, meaning these companies already agreed, explicitly, to do business with the Brown notes "a growing desire to hold online media accountable for their role in disseminating information leading to condemnable acts by third parties." As evidence, he points to a case "seeking to hold Facebook liable for allowing Hamas to use its platform to encourage terrorist attacks" and one

Top members of the Senate Banking Committee plan to introduce legislation that would direct the congressional watchdog to study virtual currency’s role in drug and human trafficking . In fact, when it comes to shaping the online conversation around climate change, a new study suggests that deniers and conspiracy theorists might hold an edge over those believing in science.

Backpage officials did not immediately respond to request for comment about the bill to alter the CDA, which has been dubbed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. Similar legislation proposed earlier this year in the House by Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., now has more than 100 sponsors.

The legislative push marks the latest effort by federal lawmakers to go after Backpage, the controversial website that the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says accounts for 73% of child sex trafficking reports in the U.S.

Law enforcement and anti-trafficking advocates have long sought to hold the operators of Backpage responsible through civil lawsuits, charging that operators have knowingly facilitated sex trafficking by providing a cloak of anonymity for pimps and making it easy for johns to use the site to arrange meetings with prostitutes.

But Backpage has managed to avoid liability in civil lawsuits filed against the company by sex trafficking victims by successfully arguing that the CDA ensures that they can’t be held liable for the speech of users of the site. Tech companies and free speech proponents have also raised concerns about making changes to the liability provision, arguing it protects free expression on the Internet

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Internet freedom laws held sacred in Silicon Valley have helped shield Backpage from prosecution and lawsuits by victims of gruesome sex trafficking . Now the tech industry's Backpage problem has evolved into a full-blown political crisis. An unexpectedly large coalition of lawmakers are aiming to hold sites like Backpage Trade groups representing Google, Facebook and other Internet giants warn of a "devastating impact" on the tech industry if the 1996 Communications Decency Act is tinkered with in the way lawmakers envision to hold Backpage and others liable for criminal material on their pages .

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Lawmakers have been ratcheting up the pressure against the Dutch-owned, Texas-headquartered company over the last several months.

Last week, Portman and Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., announced they formally recommended the Justice Department launch a criminal investigation of Backpage.

In January, the company announced it was shuttering access to the adult section of its website within the U.S. The move came as the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a scathing report that charged Backpage operators systematically edits its escort ads to filter out words that would suggest the site was promoting the trafficking of children. Pimps, however, continue to use the website’s “dating” section to advertise sex workers, according to lawmakers.

In October, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced pimping charges against Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and charges of conspiracy to commit pimping against shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin. A Sacramento County judge tossed out the charges, noting the Communications Decency Act.

In addition to Portman and McCaskill, who launched the two-year-long Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations probe into Backpage's business, 13 Republicans and five Democrats announced their support of the bill to alter the CDA.

"Until our investigation showed Backpage was actively facilitating sex trafficking, the company had repeatedly used the federal law that protects online platforms to escape accountability for the disgusting crimes it aided," McCaskill said in a statement. "But even as we’ve helped deny Backpage its legal shield in these cases, we need a broader effort to stop the next Backpage, before it starts."

Follow USA TODAY's Aamer Madhani on Twitter: @AamerISmad

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usr: 1
This is interesting!