Feds Ignore First Amendment, Supreme Court Precedent In Seizing Domain Of Social Network For Sex Workers

from the based-on-what? dept

The disturbing trend of the federal government seizing domain names without regard to the First Amendment continues. The FBI, along with the IRS, apparently seized a number of websites associated with MyRedbook.com, and arrested the operator of the site. The FBI notes that the site, which was a social network and resource for sex workers, included advertising that “facilitated prostitution.” It also accused the site of money laundering.

However, as the EFF is noting beyond the question of whether or not the FBI should even be in the business of targeting sex workers, there are serious First Amendment questions around such a seizure of a website:

MyRedBook and its companion sites served a large and diverse community of sex workers. The sites functioned as social media platforms, with discussion boards for users in topics from politics to financial tips. It also served as a resource guide with information ranging from explanations of the law as it pertains to sex work to health information. For archived versions of the forums sex workers no longer have access to, click here.

These sites were essential tools for First Amendment protected speech and association?especially important for a community that values its privacy for a variety of legitimate reasons. This platform has been pulled out from under the feet of this community.

As we’ve discussed many times in the past with regards to the government’s seizure of websites, these appear to be classic cases of prior restraint — the effective equivalent of the government rushing in and smashing the printing presses for a publication. In Ft. Wayne Books. v. Indiana, the Supreme Court is quite clear that the government can’t just go in and seize protected speech based on related illegal activity, especially without first holding an adversarial hearing to explore the First Amendment implications. The court noted:

…our cases firmly hold that mere probable cause to believe a legal violation has transpired is not adequate to remove books or films from circulation.

The court is quite clear that the only purpose for which seizure is appropriate in such circumstances is to procure a single copy for the sake of evidence, but not to remove protected speech entirely from circulation. While that case was about RICO claims of racketeering, and this case is about money laundering and prostitution, the same principles should and do apply:

At least where the RICO violation claimed is a pattern of racketeering that can be established only by rebutting the presumption that expressive materials are protected by the First Amendment, … that presumption is not rebutted until the claimed justification for seizing books or other publications is properly established in an adversary proceeding. Here, literally thousands of books and films were carried away and taken out of circulation by the pretrial order…. Yet it remained to be proved whether the seizure was actually warranted under the Indiana CRRA and RICO statutes. If we are to maintain the regard for First Amendment values expressed in our prior decisions dealing with interrupting the flow of expressive materials, the judgment of the Indiana Court must be reversed.

I can’t see any legitimate way that the DOJ/FBI can defend this seizure under such a standard. It clearly took down significant aspects of protected speech based merely on the assertion of related criminal activity, without any sort of adversarial hearing. The First Amendment, and the specific statements of the Supreme Court in this case, clearly forbid such actions.

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Comments on “Feds Ignore First Amendment, Supreme Court Precedent In Seizing Domain Of Social Network For Sex Workers”

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24 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

The First Amendment, and the specific statements of the Supreme Court in this case, clearly forbid such actions.

It’s been a while since the Executive last cared about the Constitution or judicial precedent…

Instead of doing this the Govt should be working to legalize this kind of work and grant the girls (and guys) protection and all the rights any other worker has.

Case says:

the website hosted advertisements for prostitutes, complete with explicit photos, lewd physical descriptions, menus of sexual services, hourly and nightly rates, and customer reviews of the prostitutes’ services.

Gotta love it when they don’t even bother hiding their moral policing. Lewd physical descriptions, oh noes!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Well yeah, they need some sort of “moral villain” to justify their police state. Plus the puritan infestation of America has lead to downright warped priorities. Lie about spying on everyone and murder of own citizens, yawn. Lie during an irrelevant about receiving a blowjob? OMG!!! Impeachment hearings!1!

Anonymous Coward says:

If the DOJ and FBI really cared about money laundering. They’d seize the websites of banksters, such as JPMorgan Chase.

‘Most recently, JPMorgan made a so-called deferred prosecution agreement with U.S. Attorney Office for the Southern District of New York which will suspend a criminal indictment for JPMorgan’s violation of the 1970 Bank Secrecy Act, a federal statute that requires financial institutions to assist government agencies in detecting and preventing money laundering, tax evasion, or other criminal activities.’

http://wallstcheatsheet.com/stocks/justice-department-tells-banks-money-laundering-doesnt-pay.html/?a=viewall

So JPMorgan Chase gets a “deferred prosecution agreement” and MyRedbook.com gets their domain name seized without a trial.

Crime doesn’t pay, unless you’re a bankster!

Padpaw (profile) says:

They do what they want when they want. Anyone that stands up to them gets threatened, beaten, murdered, or just plain vanish.

Maybe it is a crime syndicate running the country instead of a totalitarian police state. I don’t see any difference. The laws do not apply to the people running the country. When more people realize that, these will seem like the golden years for how calm and ordered society used to be.

Redbook Veteran says:

Tyranny amongst us

Having been a member and frequent client to many in the redbook sphere, I find it appalling, disgusting and downright tyrannical that the site was taken down; unfortunately I’m not too surprised by anything the dictators amongst us do these days.

The irony of it is that they’ve now exposed many folks in the industry, providers and clients alike, to much more danger, fraud and chaos; people will die because of this government action, that is assured.

One thankful aspect of the current Executive Branch is that the country is now finally realizing how totally screwed up we’ve become. We are truly living in a post constitutional republic (if you can even call it a republic). Can you say REVOLUTION!

Thomas Jefferson knew this would happen at some point in time; that time is now. Carpe diem!

T (profile) says:

It’s ludicrous that federal law is even involved here. If there’s no federal law against prostitution (which there isn’t), why should there be ones against crossing state lines, communicating over the internet, or anything else, in connection with it? The states and localities that ban it are perfectly capable of enforcing their own prohibitions, and the people who live in or would travel to those that haven’t banned it are being unjustly constrained in their ability to do something legal.

Alas, if the Necessary and Proper and Interstate Commerce Clauses were interpreted as intended, the Feds wouldn’t be able to stick their noses in this case to begin with.

ercell v rima- fleurima (user link) says:

ercell

The Feds Are throwing everything they can find to show the governments power over the individual. The government will violate the entire Bill Of Rights and will not give a dam. The sad thing about all this is that the people are willing to stand by and let it happen. Where is the American Civil Liberties Union? Have they sold out? We the people need to fight back. Once the government controls our civil rights., it is all over. People need to realize that this more than a disturbing trend: this is being done purposely with the intent of establishing a World Government controlled by about 10% of the riches people in the world. Why are more governments switching to high resolution imagery?
7 hours ago · Like

Redbook Lurker says:

Glad they shut it down

Redbook had become a disgusting place. The vocabulary alone tells you why — provider, K-girl, spinner. Do you know what those words mean? The lonely Redbook book men would hurl these terms around while comparing the relative merits of underage defenseless exploited Asian prostitutes. The poor guys couldn’t get laid without paying and they lorded it over the poor young women, treating them like cattle. I’m glad the site was shut down.

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