FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sex Trafficking Can Be Stopped Without Destroying Free Speech and Innovation

In an attempt to curb online sex trafficking, Congress may destroy the internet as we know it, while not actually stopping trafficking. The bill being proposed is so troubling, that even Sen. Kamala Harris, who has led crusades against sex trafficking in the past, has not come out in favor of it yet.

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 (SESTA), introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) would do little to stop the issue, while threatening the future of free speech and innovation on the internet. SESTA aims to overhaul parts of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which protects internet services from being held liable for offensive content posted on their sites by third parties.

Sex trafficking is horrible when it happens, but it provokes hysterics and exaggerations. Data that came out last month shows that in spite of the people claiming that sex trafficking is the newest, most terrible problem, most states have close to zero arrests related to it. In Florida, for example, of the 105 investigations into trafficking in 2016, none lead to an arrest..

Supporters of SESTA argue that CDA does not go far enough to hold internet services accountable. On the contrary, the author of the original CDA, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), made it clear that the bill does nothing to prevent law enforcement from prosecuting criminal law, state law or intellectual property law. Individuals and advertisers can be held liable for any post that promotes illegal activity––CDA just protects the host services from frivolous lawsuits.

Additionally, supporters of the bill argue that the CDA, as it currently stands, leaves law enforcement handcuffed in prosecuting online sex trafficking. But they’re wrong. The CDA only prevents them from targeting online services for the third party content that appears on their sites. It does nothing to prevent law enforcement from going after the actual facilitators of sex trafficking, or any other illegal activity. For example, if a sex trafficker posted an ad on Facebook using language that Facebook’s algorithms may not have picked up on as related to sex trafficking, the sex trafficker could still be held liable under CDA, but Facebook could not.

There is even some wiggle room in current law that allows the government to hold sites accountable for profiting from illegal activities. Law enforcement officials in California are currently prosecuting a criminal case against Backpage, despite the fact that SESTA is not currently law. The pimping charges that were originally brought against Backpage executives have since been dropped, because of the sloppiness of the case from former Harris, who was serving as California attorney general at the time. But the state is still moving forward on prosecuting the executives on money laundering charges related to the site’s role in facilitating, or profiting from, prostitution. The notion that law enforcement does not have the ability to prosecute sex trafficking cases because of CDA is flat out erroneous.

Additionally, CDA offers specific protections for internet services that take a “good faith” attempt to block obscene or offensive content that ends up on their site. Websites like Facebook and Google have utilized the good faith provision and created strict community guidelines that allow them to remove all sorts of obscene material.

For example, Facebook removes any sexually explicit content or anything that solicits sexual activities. The social media giant even goes as far as banning consensual adult nudity on its site to “protect” its audiences.

During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last month, Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, who focuses on internet law, highlighted why SESTA would lead to less responsible behavior from internet services. He argued that prior to CDA, companies had to either accept liability and enact costly editorial measures for third party content, or essentially ignore moderating any third party content to avoid liability. SESTA would lead these sites to stop moderating content altogether, because of the liability issue, thus creating a situation where sex trafficking content could become rampant online.

Many groups and individuals that work with sex trafficking victims have expressed grave concern with SESTA, as well. Freedom Network, the largest network of anti-trafficking service providers, has said the changes SESTA proposes would “deter responsible website administrators from trying to identify and report trafficking.” Freedom Network also argued that SESTA would push those listing these services further into the shadows, making it even harder to identify trafficking victims online. After all, light is the best disinfectant for heinous material.

There are also private organizations that have made it their mission to prevent trafficking. Thorn, for example, is a group that partners with tech giants and NGOs to conduct research and determine the best ways to prevent trafficking. In 2016, Thorn helped identify and protect 2,020 victims of child sex trafficking, worldwide. SESTA would effectively drive traffickers further to the depths of the dark web, making it harder for groups like Thorn to discover and report online trafficking.

There is no reason to gut a bill that has allowed free speech and innovation to thrive online. With tech groups and sex trafficking advocates both opposed to SESTA, Congress should take a hint and realize this legislation would be disastrous to the internet and do nothing to curb sex trafficking.

Dan King is an advocate for Young Voices and a journalist residing in Arlington, Virginia. He writes about free speech, mass surveillance, civil liberties and LGBT issues. He can be found on Twitter @Kinger_Liberty.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail