DOJ Tells Congress SESTA/FOSTA Will Make It MORE DIFFICULT To Catch Traffickers; House Votes For It Anyway
from the wtf-guys? dept
As we’ve been discussing, this afternoon, the House voted both on Rep. Mimi Walters’ bad amendment to attach SESTA to FOSTA, and then on the combined bill — and both sailed through Congress. Somewhat incredibly, this happened even though the Justice Department weighed in with a last minute letter saying that the language in the combined SESTA/FOSTA is so poorly drafted that it would actually make it more difficult to prosecute sex traffickers, and also calling into question whether or not the bill was even Constitutional.
You would think that with the DOJ pointing out these fairly fatal flaws with the bill, that perhaps (just perhaps), the House would delay voting on this. As noted last week, bringing the amendment to the floor without having it go through the House Judiciary Committee (as is supposed to happen), seemed to be the House’s way of washing its hands of the bill, and tossing the issue back to the Senate. But rushing through a bill with huge implications is no way to make law. As Rep. Lofgren noted on the floor:
The justice department says in this letter that they believe any revision to define ?participation in a venture? is unnecessary and in fact that the new language would impact prosecutions by effectively creating additional elements in fact they say the amendment will make it harder to prosecute?There?s a thing we get told in law school: Bad cases make bad law. One of the ways to avoid that is to have the committee process work through it. That didn?t happen….
And thus, Walters’ amendment prevailed 308 to 107 and then the combined (terrible) bill sailed through the whole House 388 to 25. Kudos the to the 25 Representatives who actually understand how CDA 230 works and why this bill is so bad, but it’s depressing to think that it was just 25.
In response to this, Senator Ron Wyden has already put out a statement scolding the House for failing to understand what they’ve just done:
History shows that politicians have been remarkably bad at solving technological problems. I have written laws in the past, including Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the Internet Tax Freedom Act, that have kept politicians and special interests from sinking the internet.This bill will only prop up the entrenched players who are rapidly losing the public?s trust. The failure to understand the technological side effects of this bill ? specifically that it will become harder to expose sex-traffickers, while hamstringing innovation ? will be something that this congress will regret.
I take a backseat to no one when it comes to fighting sex trafficking and locking up the monsters who prey on the defenseless. I have authored laws to support victims and provide ongoing funding paid for by those convicted of heinous crimes against children, and authored laws to improve the child welfare system to help prevent children from becoming victims in the first place. However, the bill passed today by the House will make it harder to catch bad actors and protect victims by driving this vile crime to shadowy corners of society that are harder for law enforcement to reach.
This is the perfect encapsulation of a broken Congress. They “did something” for the grandstanding feature alone. Lots of Congressional Representatives will now claim that they “voted to stop sex trafficking” or some such, without bothering to understand or care why this bill actually will harm the victims of sex trafficking, making it more difficult for law enforcement to go after actual traffickers, creating serious incentives for websites not to stop sex traffickers from using their platforms and not to help law enforcement, and (as a side effect) seriously undermining free speech on the internet.
The bill now moves back to the Senate, which has already passed its version of SESTA out of Committee where Wyden put a hold on it. It appears likely that a vote will happen sometime soon on the bill, so now might be a good time to call your Senator and let them know that as good as this bill may sound from its title, its actual impact will be a total disaster.