DOJ Seizes And Shuts Down Backpage.com (Before SESTA Has Even Been Signed)

from the well,-well,-well dept

So here’s a Friday evening surprise: the DOJ has just seized Backpage. If you visit the site now you will see the following graphic:

It notes that additional information will be provided soon, and we’ll update this post when that occurs. But first, there are a few important things to note. Before and after SESTA was voted on by Congress, we noted that while supporters of SESTA kept pointing to Backpage as the reason we needed to change CDA 230, there were two reasons why we thought it was premature to make such a change. The first was that there was a court in Massachusetts considering whether or not Backpage had lost its CDA 230 immunity by being an active participant in creating trafficking ads. And the second, more important, one was that there were many reports claiming that a DOJ grand jury was investigating Backpage, and nothing in CDA 230 stopped that from happening (federal crimes are exempt from CDA 230).

Last week the Massachusetts court ruled that Backpage had lost its CDA 230 immunity for at least one victim, and this week a court in Florida ruled the same thing (though for dubious reasons).

And now the DOJ has seized the entire site, suggesting that the grand jury found the evidence it needed to take it down (we’ll reserve judgment on that evidence until the indictment is out).

And while SESTA has been approved by Congress, it is still not the law. The President is likely going to sign it next week.

So we have a pretty big open question: if SESTA was supposedly necessary to take down Backpage — and yet now both of the key reasons many of us noted that Backpage probably wasn’t protected have been not just proven true, but resulted in Backpage being seized — why do we still need SESTA?

We’ll be back with more later when the details are out, but for the SESTA supporters out there, let’s hear your answers.

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Comments on “DOJ Seizes And Shuts Down Backpage.com (Before SESTA Has Even Been Signed)”

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60 Comments
Andy says:

Re: Re:

Damn there were so many legal reasons to use backpage from car sales purchases, car parts finder, dogs and other animal purchases sales, damn near anything you would ever want to buy from other people, maybe this is the reason the powers that be want to shut it down, it is a free ebay alternative, and a free way to contact others that have similar hobbies to your own.

Why oh why were all those legal reasons to have backpage not taken into account when they shut it down.

This is a big loss to the community of people that used to use it, but i am sure there is a backup that can be used under another name maybe not involving america this time.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Given how fast and loose the DOJ played with US and NZ law going after him I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate.

They wanted him bad, such that I strongly suspect that even if he’d had no US presence in any real sense they’d have still found some justification to claim he was still under US jurisdiction, and/or should be extradited to the US.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Legal reasons for webservices

When MegaUpload was seized and shut down, the clients getting legal use of it by far outnumbered the illegal, and yet the shutdown still occurred leaving a number of people who depended on it as an archive without their data, leading to an EFF-led rescue service, later. ICE was happy to let people suffer without their data. Serves them right for dealing with a criminal was the attitude.

So the Backpage shutdown we’re seeing right now has nothing to do with right and wrong, legal and illegal. It is about one institution taking down an enemy.

The human traffickers and trafficking victims are simply getting caught in the crossfire.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Damn there were so many legal reasons to use backpage from car sales purchases, car parts finder, dogs and other animal purchases sales, damn near anything you would ever want to buy from other people…

As to the particular consumer’s interest in the free flow of commercial information, that interest may be as keen, if not keener by far, than his interest in the day’s most urgent political debate.

           ——Mr Justice Blackmun, opinion for the court in Virginia State Board of Pharmacy (1976)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What ever happened to

It happened in a secret court

The use by government of the power of search and seizure as an adjunct to a system for the suppression of objectionable publications is not new. Historically the struggle for freedom of speech and press in England was bound up with the issue of the scope of the search and seizure power. . . . 

           —— Mr. Justice Brennan, opinion for the court in Marcus v Search Warrant (1961)

 

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What ever happened to

DUE PROCESS?

In Arcara v Cloud Books (1986)—

During September and October 1982, the Erie County Sheriff’s Department conducted an undercover investigation into reported illicit sexual activities occurring on respondents’ premises. . . .

The results of the undercover investigation formed the basis of a civil complaint against respondents seeking closure of the premises under § 2321 of the New York Public Health Law. . . .

Respondents answered the complaint . . . Respondents moved for partial summary judgment . . . The Trial Division of the New York Supreme Court, Special Term, denied the motion for summary judgment . . .

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, affirmed. . . .

The New York Court of Appeals reversed. . . .

We granted certiorari. We reverse.

If you recall the Rojadirecta arguments, then perhaps you’ll recall this case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Look at that long list of involved agencies...

Same reason why the copyright nutjobs, like Whatever/MyNameHere/horse with no name, claim that supermarkets are an IP-intensive industry. Because the ability and market of trading money for food and other goods would collapse overnight if not for life + 70 years…

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: Re: FOSTA is to make CLEAR that corporatists are WRONG: NOT immune,

Wow. I’m not sure you could be more wrong if you tried. If anything, SESTA/FOSTA are going to further concentrate more power/control to the big corporate players, Facebook/Google/Etc., as the new burdens raise the barrier of entry for smaller businesses. (While doing nothing to actually help victims of human trafficking).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: FOSTA is to make CLEAR that corporatists are WRONG: NOT immune,

And phone companies are required to have a minimal knowledge of what goes on in phone conversation so they can cut illegal conversations.

When a corporations offers an open site, even if it requires a sign up; or a site allows open comments, they are a communications medium with little control over the communications. O.K. when those communications are stored, it is reasonable that they are allowed to remove any that they find offensive or illegal without, or are notified of, without being held liable for what they remove or leave up.

Do you really want the Internet to be turned into cable TV v2, and have all content moderated by corporations, because that is the alternative to granting them immunity for what users post.

matt says:

us congress unfit to run country RESIGN

iM calling for all of the us congress to resign please you guys cant even agree on a budget spending for the year but you can agree to regulate our lives, weRE facing threats from China Russia Iran & Noko and you fucking wasting time and tax payers money on this shit that isn’t none of ur business….where is legislation on meddling in our election? where is a heath care bill that works for everyone?????????
I CALL FOR ALL TO RESIGN THIS IS CERTAINLY OVERSTEPPING AND NOT IN A GOODWAY SO IF THIS BILL WAS THE ONLY THING YOU COULD AGREE TO PASS THEN MY POINT IS PROVEN RESIGN RESIGN RESIGN RESIGN US CONGRESS UNFIT TO RUN OUR COUNTRY ANY LONGER

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Today's "Raid" in Tucson's premiere colocation facility

Five FBI and one IRS (Treasury) agents showed up, armed with a search&seizure warrant and some sidearms. We were impressed they can wear 5.11 tactical pants in the hot Arizona heat.

They were professional, courteous, and allowed us to contact the point-of-contact for Backpage’s hosting provider. (We merely provide the colocation datacenter space, not the servers or content).

They took all the servers offline, extracted from racks, photographed them, and took them away.

I offered to get them stock shots of other servers, since servers from the outside don’t really tell you *anything* about content on the inside or who posted it.

Also in the warrant they intend to seize the “criminal intent of the mind” but it wasn’t clear of whose. I asked about how they intended to do that… and got a smile.

And now there are reports they also raided the backpage founders’ homes … I have to wonder why today…

Ehud

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Today's "Raid" in Tucson's premiere colocation facility

Or perhaps the FBI had what they needed to go after Backpages for some time, but delayed doing so until after SESTA was passed because of its advantages in the future. It would not be the first time that they have played politics with an investigation.

Gregory Jones says:

SESTA/FOSTA

If Congress adjourns before the 10 days and the President has not signed the bill then it does not become law (“Pocket Veto.”) On 04/03/2018 the Bill was presented to President Trump. Congress adjourns on the 7th, If he does not sign it by the 13th this bill is Vetoed, and Congress would have to vote with a super Majority of both houses (which they do not have in the House of Reps). for this to become law.

Anonymous Coward says:

SESTA sure won't be good for Trump.

If Trump signs SESTA, everyone who is against SESTA will hate him, even though everyone in Congress voted for it except for two people.

If Trump doesn’t sign SESTA, everyone will hate him because he’s not going along with the wishes of Congress.

He’s screwed either way on this one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: SESTA sure won't be good for Trump.

Not necessarily. If Trump does not sign the bill, that will get him more votes in tech heavy states, which will will need, to get re-elected. He will need to win California, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and North Carolina. If he does not sign SESTA/FOSTA, that will get him more votes in those states.

Anonymous Coward says:

See, SOPA fans, this is how we knew beforehand you couldn’t be trusted with SOPA.

Even with the tools promised for you, you couldn’t wait to sic your trigger-happy law enforcement buddies before the pen was even allowed to place the ink on the paper to dry.

out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sealed Case

Update from Buzzfeed, on today’s story by Blake Montgomery, “Backpage Has Been Taken Down By The US Government And Sex Workers Aren’t Happy” (updated Apr 6, 2018, 5:57 pm.)

The Backpage.com notice stated that additional information would be provided on Friday at 6 p.m. ET, but later in the evening a Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement, "The Court has ruled that the case remains sealed and we have nothing to report today." The statement indicates there is a court case related to the Backpage.com matter, but no other information about it is public.

(Via @chrisgeidner)

Anonymous Coward says:

Courtroom closed to public

Backpage founder charged by feds after human-trafficking investigation”, by Richard Ruelas and Megan Cassidy, Arizona Republic, Apr 6, 2018 (updated 6:36 p.m. MT)

An attorney for Michael Lacey, Larry Kazan, told The Arizona Republic at the federal courthouse in Phoenix on Friday afternoon that his client had been charged. Kazan said he did not know how many counts Lacey faced because the 93-count indictment was sealed.

The courtroom was closed to the public, and it was not immediately clear what charges are included on the indictment.

(Via Politico.)

Anonymous Coward says:

How long until Backpage creates a new domain?

When the Feds were seizing pirate domains ten years ago, the site would come back with a new domain name. That is they attempted to pass the Commercial Felony Streaming Act in 2011.

When sites start registering new domain names, what other kinds of draconian legislation will be passed to address this?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: When this is overturned I really hope Backpage gets revegenge

Largely because the DOJ had very little to lose at that point. The only “penalty” the DOJ suffered by being ordered to give back the physical assets was Dotcom tweeting about it. Imagine if you were a kid and the playground bully took your ball – after a week he returns the ball after he’d had it deflated and took a dump inside of it, and doesn’t get so much as a slap on the wrist with a wet noodle.

It’s the same as the Dajaz1 case where ICE seized the site based on absolutely no evidence, quietly restored it after five years (during which no action was taken against the site’s administrators)… and the RIAA crowed about it, claiming it was a victory for anti-piracy.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Short answer: no.

In prior articles I’ve reframed this hypothetical into trashy romance format:

Your husband’s small business is finally turning a tidy profit, enough that he can expand his business to the state level, but his rival is a state official who has resented your pairing since the wedding. Unable to constrain himself any longer, the rival puts his fiendish plot into action

The rival arranges your husbands assets seized along with his website. The raid is spectacular with MRAPS full of black-clad SWAT squads. Amid smoke and rifles, they seized your husband and took him away. That’s the last time you saw him, a free man.

Your husband’s indictment takes less than a minute. His conviction is practically certain, and he plea-bargains for a shorter sentence in a nicer prison.

In the meantime, your belongings seized, you are penniless and on the verge of homelessness. This is when the rival presents you with his sinister offer: Be his mistress. Serve him well in the bedchamber, and you will live in the luxury that suits your tastes and sensibilities.

Fail, and face an unforgiving job market. The rival assures you it will be cold indeed, as he will blackball you at every turn, and even low paying retail service will be hard to keep. Furthermore, he will arrange for your husband to be transferred to a harsher prison and subject to prison rape, that is if he is not disappeared altogether to be tortured in a black site.

Coming soon to Amazon. Sadly, all of this is not only plausible, but probably (more or less) happening today.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re: Short answer: no.

I love that trashy romance! Did the official advertise Irish babies for sale on your site, a la Jonathan Swift, lol?

Back to Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy…

I think the problem is one of insecurity in the individuals — that is, if I solve the problem at hand, I won’t have a job!

You can take that as an opportunity if you like, but on average, I think, most take that as a threat to their own security.

The solution then becomes how to keep things small and scrappy with a constant outflow of people to better opportunities so putting a given enterprise out of business isn’t such a threat.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Short answer: no.

It’s great that you’re on hallucinogens. You end with “The solution the becomes” and continue your druggy rant.

If one day you have something to say, I excitedly look reading to it.

Your illiterate druggy rant above… impressed me with you ability to put lots of words together and say nothing.

This is about backpage. You did read the original article, right? Oh. No? Try that first.

P.S. Jerry Pournelle hates your misquoting him. think of as an evolution in action for developmentaly challenged you.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Short answer: no.

Ehud… sorry for the telegraphic post.

…seems you took a mental shortcut, made assumptions, and jumped to conclusions. Not a good look…worth a warning point or a ban on many websites. Now yes, there are a bunch of blanks in my telegraphic post which need filling in, and yes, it’s a little bit off topic.

First, Uriel238 didn’t directly answer my question that he was directly replying to: “with a post for something bad, when should the website management become liable?”. I forgave that and ignored it, because I like his trashy romance, which I think may be an excellent description of the backpage situation, with the only question being if anyone besides the MPAA is behind Kamela Harris and her crusade. Kim Dotcom is written all over this raid…what with a secret indictment, taking out the top people, and all.

Second, I had asked, in an earlier post, about how to prevent some manifestation (the dysfunction that was the subject of the post) of the spirit of Pournelle’s law of organizations, and Uriel had pointed out to me that’s exactly what it was, and that the problem was likely as old as the question about the chicken crossing the road… and in fact, most of what Techdirt reports on, especially backpage, looks like example after example of that law.

I begin by pointing out how the security of working within an organization tends to lead to individuals not wanting to declare that the problem they are working on has been solved… and posit that attacking the problem of individual security would tend to effectively counteract the phenomenon which is Pournelle’s law, for the greater good of all of us!

Christenson says:

Wandering

Ehud
You are missing some context…Uriel had earlier(on another POst) quoted Pournelle to me about organizations tending to want to perpetuate themselves as opposed to solving whatever problem they were set up to address.

Here, it’s perhaps tangential… and a definite context jump without warning…but it does seem that the attack on backpage is the result of certain organizations trying hard to stay relevant in the face of a changed environment, and worsening the very problem they are supposed to address.

Unfortunately, my original question about where the line should be went unanswered…seems backpage may be locked into Uriel’s trashy romance.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Pedantics of Pournelle

Pournelle’s model sees the transition of institutions from function-serving to (purely) self-serving as gradual. It’s explained better on his Wikipedia page. In the case of the US legal system, it has alreadly long fallen to corruption and perverse incentives, so yeah, it’s a good example of Pournelle’s Iron Law in action.

The problem now is one intrinsic to the United States and its constitution: is it possible to reform the legal system without violent recourse, given those reform requires cooperation of those in power?

If not, then violent revolution is inevitable, and all we can ask is how soon and what will replace the old regime?

(One of the problems with violent purges is they often don’t fix the problems that triggered them. We may well end up with an aristocratic hanging court eager to convict and execute anyone that displeases it.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Finally posted them

Indictment:
https://www.justice.gov/file/1050276/download
Press Release:
https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-leads-effort-seize-backpagecom-internet-s-leading-forum-prostitution-ads
It basically looks like it boils down to them using the credit card freezing a few years back as an excuse for money laundering charges. Everything else is conspiracy charges relating to obtaining money from sex ads and moderating the accepted ads.

It reminds me of the Kim Dotcom charges sounding great in general but holding no truth once you dig down into anything specific.

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