In Deal To Get Loretta Lynch Confirmed As Attorney General, Senate Agrees To Undermine Free Speech On The Internet

from the to-save-victims,-we-must-destroy-the-innocent dept

Two versions of bills aimed at sex trafficking are being kicked around by legislators. The SAVE Act (Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation) passed out of the House last year. The Senate version — the much-less-acronymically-catchy JVTA (Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act) is looking to be no better than the House’s version, thanks to a last-minute proposed amendment from Senator Mark Kirk, who’s been dying to kill off Backpages.com’s adult advertising for quite some time now. And Kirk was able to get this terrible amendment added as part of the “Senate deal” to finally confirm Loretta Lynch as our new Attorney General.

Unfortunately, part of the deal to move the bill forward appears to include a version of the SAVE Act which will amend existing federal anti-trafficking law in vague ways that will be used to prosecute online content hosts for third-party content. This bill, Amendment 273 to the JVTA, closely parallels a version of the SAVE Act that passed the House in January.

As can be clearly seen by the House bill’s title, advertising is being targeted. Kirk’s amendment adds “advertising” to the list of forbidden activities, which obviously will have repercussions for website owners should this pass with the amendment attached. It would effectively wipe out Section 230 for many websites, if any content on their sites is seen as “advertising sex trafficking.”

Obviously, no one here is supporting “sex trafficking,” but the focus should be on going after the actual people engaged in sex trafficking — not allowing criminal charges to be placed against any website that didn’t magically block someone putting up such ads. In an age of user generated content, such “advertising” content could potentially show up anywhere — and any website operator who doesn’t magically find and delete all of it faces criminal charges (that our incoming Attorney General can then use to go after them).

This would put website owners in the line of fire, should they fail to immediately delete advertising that falls under the purview of this law. ISPs, search engines and carriers are exempted from the SAVE Act, but site owners are not. Not only that, but if more of the SAVE Act gets folded into the JVTA, site owners will be given the burden of acquiring proof that every affected ad only pertains to adults over the age of 18. Failure to do so could result in a five-year prison sentence.

In a perfect world, illegal ads would be easy to spot. But it isn’t a perfect world and those advertising illicit services are highly unlikely to hand over the information site owners need to have on hand to avoid being held responsible for third-party postings. It’s a quick evisceration of Section 230 protections being performed by a very broad blade.

The bill’s sponsors are more than happy to admit they’re trying to attack Backpages and Craigslist. This is questionable enough, but they’re apparently unconcerned if other site owners — ones who don’t specialize in advertising — get caught in the crossfire.

This vagueness and the resulting uncertainty it brings for hosts of third-party content will create a chilling effect on hosts’ willingness to allow users to upload content to their platforms. The specter of facing federal criminal trafficking charges over content created by someone else will make content hosts extremely wary and will encourage over-blocking of wholly lawful, constitutionally protected speech.

Worse — at least from the perspective of trying to eliminate trafficking ads — the wording of the bill suggests the best way for site owners to win is not to play.

One thing is clear: by creating a situation where a host is vulnerable to liability if it has knowledge of trafficking-related content on its servers, Amendment 273 will actually discourage proactive filtering and screening mechanisms that many platforms currently employ.

If this appears to be the safest route for site owners to take, this law will result in more trafficking ads, rather than less.

Even further on this point, right now, sites like Craigslist and Backpages are great tools for law enforcement to find and track down actual sex traffickers. Putting the liability on them to stop the advertisements or face criminal charges doesn’t stop the sex trafficking at all, it just makes it that much harder for law enforcement to find it. Does Senator Kirk really want to go down as the Senator who made it more difficult for law enforcement to find and arrest sex traffickers?

This language also suggests a certain amount of laziness on the part of those pushing the bills, as well as those charged with enforcing it. It’s a whole lot easier to track down site owners and punish them than it is to find out who’s behind the posting of illicit ads. By dumping the burden of proof — as well as a certain amount of liability — on site owners, law enforcement agencies will be encouraged to harvest the low-hanging fruit first. And while they do, those touting these laws will praise their efforts, despite the paucity of actual traffickers arrested or indicted.

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Companies: backpages, craigslist

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Comments on “In Deal To Get Loretta Lynch Confirmed As Attorney General, Senate Agrees To Undermine Free Speech On The Internet”

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18 Comments
David says:

A new way to attack speech/sites you don't like

Forget abusing the DCMA. Just post an “ad” in the comments section and call the cops. The fact that you placed the ad isn’t relevant, that the ad isn’t immediately deleted is.

Could you effectively shut down YouTube, by just posting comments or videos? Or how about Facebook? Just create a page or account with enough suggestible content. Or twitter? Advertise away and you can take out almost anyone.

Who do you want to silence?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A new way to attack speech/sites you don't like

Good point, but YouTube is a poor example. Why? A poster can disable comments when uploading a video. Thus nobody can comment, and thus nobody can post an ad of any kind in the comments.

For such a plan to work as you suggest the site’s posters would have to accept comments without exception and there would have to be no moderation. I’m not familiar with Facebook and Twitter, but if anybody tried that with Reddit that community would jump all over them.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"I didn't sign up for this job to do work!"

Even further on this point, right now, sites like Craigslist and Backpages are great tools for law enforcement to find and track down actual sex traffickers. Putting the liability on them to stop the advertisements or face criminal charges doesn’t stop the sex trafficking at all, it just makes it that much harder for law enforcement to find it. Does Senator Kirk really want to go down as the Senator who made it more difficult for law enforcement to find and arrest sex traffickers?

Going after the actual criminals, that takes work, and can take time to build up a case and bring it to court. In other words, it requires them to actually do their jobs. It takes work, and the PR benefits are lacking until a convictions has been made.

Brushing the problem under the rug though, pretending that by making it less visible you’re decreasing the amount of it occurring, that takes minimal work, and the PR benefits are immediate, you can go around crowing about how you’re ‘tough on sex trafficers’ pretty much right away, despite the fact that it’s not even remotely true.

The ones pushing such bills don’t care in the slightest about actually solving the problem, all they care about is being able to boast that they made it less visible.

Anonymous Coward says:

First, can you post a link to the proposed bill in its entirety with the amendments>?

There is another provision that terrifies me as an expansionist approach:

“`(b) Definition.–Acknowledging the right of birthright
citizenship established by section 1 of the 14th Amendment to
the Constitution of the United States, a person born in the
United States shall be considered `subject to the
jurisdiction’ of the United States for purposes of subsection
(a)(1) only if the person is born in the United States and at
least 1 of the person’s parents is–
“(1) a citizen or national of the United States;
“(2) an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in
the United States whose residence is in the United States; or
“(3) an alien performing active service in the armed
forces (as defined in section 101 of title 10, United States
Code).”.”

This would mean that a citizen who lives outside of the US and has a child who was born in the US is subject to jurisdiction in the US even if neither of them has set foot in the country since the child’s date of birth!!!

tqk (profile) says:

Hypocrites and liars all.

If this appears to be the safest route for site owners to take, this law will result in more trafficking ads, rather than less.

And the last functioning productive business in the USA will please turn out the lights when it leaves.

If I was Lynch, I’d have payback foremost on my mind. I’d spend the next four years applying the dog’s breakfast laws on the idiots in Congress who passed them. At the end of four years, they’d all be in jail for the rest of their lives, and we’d save a fortune for no longer having to suffer their existence. She could also go after the DoD and the former politicians who released the Internet on the world in the first place. How dare they?!?

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