Google Attempts to Block Bill to Hold Sex-Traffickers Accountable
WASHINGTON DC, August 25 (C-Fam) Google and the tech lobby are working to derail the passage of a bill to protect girls from online sex traffickers.
The bill introduced by Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) in the U.S. House and Senate will ensure that web platforms, websites, ISPs, web-hosting providers, and online advertisers can be sued by victims of child sex-trafficking and other torts and crimes the companies knowingly or recklessly allow.
“Big tech is desperately fighting to protect their bottom line,” Congresswoman Wagner told the Friday Fax. “I am surprised by how low some big tech companies are stooping to strip American sex trafficking victims of their basic constitutional rights to seek justice in U.S. courts.”
Google operatives opposed the bill saying it would “seriously jeopardize the internet ecosystem” by restricting freedom of speech in an email to staffers when congressional leaders began to consider attaching the bill to must-pass legislation prior to the recess.
Over sixty anti-trafficking organizations responded to Google’s interference saying the tech industry’s obstructionism was “driven by the same motivating factor that drives companies like Backpage.com to facilitate sex trafficking—profit.”
“Why are these actions allowed and protected online when they are considered criminal acts offline? Putting up posters of trafficked people or children for sale in a mall would constitute a federal crime,” the letter continues.
Harvard Professor Ben Edelman, estimates that Google makes over $1 billion in revenue by allowing criminal ads, including for child trafficking. Google attorneys involved in opposing the legislation met twice with Backpage.com’s legal counsel to strategize on CDA 230 challenges and to discuss how to avoid lawsuits from child victims of sex-trafficking.
The Wagner and Portman bills amend Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA). Sponsors say the amendment is necessary because judges cite this law to give internet providers and websites immunity for egregious conduct. Minor victims of sex crimes and their families have sought compensation to no avail including, most famously, in the case of Backpage.com.
A January report of the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations concluded Backpage.com profited from the sale of minor girls for sex, often changing the text in advertisements to conceal that girls were underage in order to keep advertising revenues. It found that “eight out of every ten dollars spent on online commercial sex advertising in the United States went to one website—Backpage.com.”
“What do a revenge pornographer, gossip-site curator, and platform pairing predators with young people in one-on-one chats have in common? Blanket immunity from liability,” writes University Law Professor Danielle Keats Citron and Benjamin Wittes.
In their forthcoming Fordham Law Review article the authors acknowledge that courts have interpreted and expanded Section 230 beyond its original intent. Anti-traffickers agree saying CDA 230 now “protects not only ‘irrational free speech’ (e.g. revenge porn, snuff film sites, and other types of malicious speech) but actual criminal conduct.”
Citron and Wittes maintain that a “modest revision will not break the internet” but will preserve a “robust culture of free speech online without shielding from liability platforms designed to host illegality or who deliberately host illegal content.”
Austin Ruse President of C-Fam, publisher of the Friday Fax, wrote to Congressmen that “We will never defeat child sex traffickers so long as Backpage.com, Google and other web platforms can avoid any and all responsibility for conduct they alone can effectively police.”