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Policy Summary

On February 27, 2018, the House of Representatives passed the “Allow States To Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” by a vote of 388 to 25. Three weeks later on March 21, 2018, the Senate approved the bill by an overwhelming 97 to 2 vote. The bill, which had been formerly known as the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act,” amends a 1996 telecommunications law that gave tech companies immunity from liability for publishing third – party communications on their online platforms. By amending Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, the proposed bill looks to create an exception in that statute that will allow technology companies to be held civilly liable if they “knowingly assist, support or facilitate advertising” that violates federal sex – trafficking laws. The only other categories that exempt technology companies from liability are federal criminal laws, intellectual property laws and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. LEARN MORE

Analysis

As can be seen by the results of the votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate on this bill, the proposal has widespread support across the political spectrum. Michael – Macleod Ball, a First Amendment advisor to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has warned that this bill could serve as a model as to how to restrict online speech in the future. The problematic aspect of the bill is with the language where a tech company becomes liable if they “knowingly assist, support or facilitate” sex advertising. These words are overly broad and it is uncertain as to what behavior a technology company can take so as to not engage in the prohibited conduct that the bill seeks to prevent. Would a technology company’s overly aggressive moderation of the content on its platforms be classified as “knowingly support[ing] [or] facilitat[ing]” a federal crime because of sex trafficking advertising that appear on their platforms that they failed to remove in a timely manner? This bill also runs into difficulties because of purely legal behavior – such as ads for medical professionals like sex therapists, exotic dancers and academic and medical research. Advertisements for sex – trafficking is certainly a problem that needs to be curtailed in the digital universe but this bill does a poor job of addressing only that issue. It encompasses a wide range of legitimate behavior and advertising and should be re – written so as to properly define the exact contours of the prohibited behavior. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

Polaris – non – profit group working against trafficking issues.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – ACLU letter to Congress in opposition to the current form of the anti – sex trafficking bill.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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