Under Pressure, Tech Giants Drop Opposition to Anti-Trafficking Bill 

By | November 9, 2017

WASHINGTON DC, November 10 (C-Fam) A bill to protect minor girls from sex traffickers who sell them online is a step closer to becoming law after Google and other giant tech companies reversed course this week and dropped opposition.

“Internet Association is committed to combating sexual exploitation and sex trafficking online and supports SESTA [Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act],” wrote Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, a lobbying group that represents Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook.

The anti-trafficking legislation already had the support of rival tech companies such as Disney, Oracle, IBM and Hewitt Packard. This pitted corporations against each other on the question of whether to support internet regulations that would allow state attorneys general to prosecute websites for criminal activity where they knowingly facilitated the selling of minor girls for sex.

The reversal by Google and other tech firms came last Friday when an amendment by Senator John Thune (R-SD) was deemed acceptable for addressing technical clarifications including that the standard for participating in the facilitation of the crime is a “knowing” standard. Tech companies had expressed concern that the legislation would pose an undue burden on websites.

The Thune amendment also clarifies that state attorneys general filing criminal actions should file actions based on violations of the federal statute, and not on the various state laws, to avoid a patchwork of differing state criminal codes.

The same day the Internet Association announced a change of position to support SESTA, five Democrat senators likewise announced co-sponsorship of the bill bringing the total to 41 senators, including Diane Feinstein, where the companies are headquartered.

In a mark-up hearing on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously to accept the Thune amendment and the bill originally co-sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was passed out of committee.

“I’m thrilled that the crime of online sex trafficking is finally getting the attention it deserves,” said Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO). “It’s heartbreaking to watch survivors struggle to piece their lives back together.” Wagner is working with the House Judiciary Committee to push her counterpart bill forward.

Google, Facebook, and Twitter are currently embroiled in congressional hearings over Russian involvement in U.S. elections. Congressional pressure and adverse public opinion has caused the tech giants to direct millions more in lobbying efforts and added to the outside pressure to find compromise to support the bill.

“It is an amazing turn of events to see these tech giants now support the Portman/Blumenthal bipartisan effort to update Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act,” Mary Mazzio told the Friday Fax.

Mazzio brought national attention to the online sexual exploitation of minors in her documentary film I am Jane Doe. The film chronicles the thwarted court battles of young victims seeking restitution from Backpage since 2011. A Senate investigative report released by Sen. Portman in January found that Backpage knowingly sold minor girls for sex by sanitizing ads placed by pimps.

Courts have dismissed challenges by victims’ families, saying their hands are tied by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Congressional action is needed to close the legislative loophole used to shield web platforms from criminal activity.

The one case allowed to go to trial reached a settlement last month just a week before Backpage was due in court. The survivor was repeatedly sexually assaulted through Backpage escort ads when she was sixteen. She spent seven years seeking legal recourse.