Silicon Valley: Human Trafficking Bill 'Overly Broad'

The bill would update the Communications Decency Act to 'ensure that websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable.'
This story originally appeared on PCMag
Silicon Valley: Human Trafficking Bill 'Overly Broad'
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A new Senate bill aims to target sites that facilitate human trafficking, but internet firms like Facebook and Google are concerned they will get swept up in the "overly broad" legislation.

Introduced on Tuesday, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 wants to "ensure justice for victims of sex trafficking and ensure that websites such as Backpage.com, which knowingly facilitate sex trafficking, can be held liable and brought to justice," according to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican.

The bill, which is backed by 19 other lawmakers from both parties, would update section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to "ensure that websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable so that victims can get justice," Portman says.

The bill would be able to seek justice against these websites. Secondly, it would eliminate federal liability protections for websites that "assist, support or facilitate" violations of federal sex trafficking laws. Finally, it would enable state law enforcement officials -- not just the Justice Department -- to take action against individuals and businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.

Portman said the bill is the result of a nearly two-year Senate investigation, which found that Backpage, a classified advertisement website, "knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and then covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits."

Backpage shut down its adult section last month after the Senate report came out. But it said the investigation was primarily intended to intimidate it into going dark. Backpage rival Craigslist shuttered its adult section in 2010, also following government investigations into its role in sex trafficking.

The proposed bill, however, could also affect companies like Facebook and Google, according to Recode, which points out that the proposal is "already drawing opposition from Silicon Valley."

The Internet Association, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization that represents the aforementioned tech giants and a number of other internet companies, says the Justice Department "must hold criminal actors and facilitators of human trafficking -- including rogue operators like Backpage.com -- responsible to the fullest extent of the law." However, the proposed bill is "overly broad and will be counterproductive in the fight to combat human trafficking," it says.

The Internet Association argues that it would "create a new wave of frivolous and unpredictable actions against legitimate companies rather than addressing underlying criminal behavior." Further, it "jeopardizes bedrock principles of a free and open internet."

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