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DOJ Lets Cops Know SESTA/FOSTA Is For Shutting Down Websites, Not Busting Sex Traffickers

from the work-dumber,-not-harder dept

SESTA/FOSTA was pushed through with the fiction it would be used to target sex traffickers. This obviously was never its intent. It faced pushback from the DOJ and law enforcement agencies because pushing traffickers off mainstream sites would make it much more difficult to track them down. The law was really written for one reason: to take down Backpage and its owners, who had survived numerous similar attempts in the past. The DOJ managed to do this without SESTA, which was still waiting for presidential approval when the feds hits the site’s principal executives with a 93-count indictment.

The law is in force and all it’s doing is hurting efforts to track down sex traffickers and harming sex workers whose protections were already minimal. Sex traffickers, however, don’t appear to be bothered by the new law. But that’s because the law wasn’t written to target sex traffickers, as a top DOJ official made clear at a law enforcement conference on child exploitation. Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan’s comments make it clear SESTA/FOSTA won’t be used to dismantle criminal organizations and rescue victims of sex traffickers. It’s there to give the government easy wins over websites while sex traffickers continue unmolested.

In April, Backpage.com – the internet’s leading forum to advertise child prostitution – was seized and shut down, thanks to the collective action by CEOS and our federal and state partners. The Backpage website was a criminal haven where sex traffickers marketed their young victims. The Backpage takedown – and the contemporaneous arrests of individuals allegedly responsible for administering the site – struck a monumental blow against child sex traffickers.

But other sites inevitably will seek to fill the void left by Backpage, and we must be vigilant in bringing those criminals to justice as well. With the recent passage of the SESTA-FOSTA legislation, state and local prosecutors are now positioned to more effectively prosecute criminals that host online sex trafficking markets that victimize our children.

“Criminals” that “host sex trafficking markets.” That’s the target. That’s any website that might be used by actual sex traffickers to engage in actual sex trafficking. There’s no dedicated web service for sex trafficking — at least not out in the open where Section 230 immunity used to matter. This is all about taking down websites for hosting any content perceived as sex trafficking-related. It wasn’t enough to hang Backpage and its execs. The government will be scanning sites for this content and then targeting the website for content posted by third parties it seems mostly uninterested in pursuing.

Hosts of third-party content are usually easy to find. The actual third parties are far more difficult to track down. Intermediary liability is back. Section 230 is no longer an effective defense. The edges have been trimmed back and the government knows it can rack up easy wins over web hosts and slowly start destroying the web under the facade of saving sex trafficking victims. The DOJ knew this law would make it harder to track down traffickers. But it also knows the law allows it to target websites instead. And here it is touting the law it fought against to a conference full of law enforcement officials, letting them know targeting websites will give them wins and accolades and far fewer headaches than tracking down the individuals actually engaged in illegal activity.

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Comments on “DOJ Lets Cops Know SESTA/FOSTA Is For Shutting Down Websites, Not Busting Sex Traffickers”

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Anonymous Coward says:


state and local prosecutors are now positioned to more effectively prosecute criminals that host online sex trafficking markets that victimize our children.

How does that work? If they were already criminals, what was the problem prosecuting them? My understanding was that they were not criminals until this law was passed. By that logic, any law that creates criminals does allow more effective prosecution of criminals.

BC says:

Re: Criminals

AC: They weren’t criminals until some sex-trafficker posted something on their website.

Think, say… Reddit, Twitter, etc. If ANYBODY posts a single message selling sex on either of those, the whole site could (theoretically) be taken down. A bit of a strawman in the case of companies that big — they have the guns to return fire. But as pointed out repeatedly, it’s the small sites that are going to get in trouble. Say a small site devoted to coin collecting that a sex trafficker decides to use to hide their tracks.

The point is that a sex-trafficker can turn a site operator into a criminal without the site operator ever realizing it happened until the cops show up at their hosting provider with a warrent or subpoena.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow, they’re just rubbing it right in everyone’s faces, aren’t they? Scumbags.

Sucks about Backpage and Craigslist’s personals section. At least there’s Doublelist. I think it’s hosted somewhere in France, so good luck shutting that down. I wouldn’t want to be the one messing with their amorous culture, they’d probably start a riot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Make up a strawman, add some assertions: presto! Techdirt STORY.

> The DOJ managed to do this without SESTA,

Fine. Whole suite of crimes committed. And now it’s made clear that hosting such advertising WAS and IS ALSO a crime.

How could stopping sites from hosting advertising for prostitutes EVER have been intended to “bust sex traffickers”? — WASN’T, any more prohibiting loitering on city streets is. Just a venue associated with crime.

*The complaint about the traffickers is just your phonied up slant so that can hide that wish mega-corporations to continue host such advertising.* Your distress is over corporations losing money, NOT over any alleged victims, then or now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

_How could stopping sites from hosting advertising for prostitutes EVER have been intended to “bust sex traffickers”?_

It wasn’t. Didn’t stop you from trumpeting the claim that being against SESTA meant that you supported prostitution. How convenient for you to sweep your previous claims under the rug, more so without an identifiable pseudonym. What a pity for you that your idiocy says more than a fake name could ever say.

out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

Gary Mont (profile) says:

Fascist SOP: Eliminate the competition, not the customers.

Destroy the web…


They just want to fully control it, like TV.

Its far too big a cash cow for the protected Big Players, especially once they get rid of the little upstarts competing for their customers and their dollars through this and future legislation.

As with the War on Drugs, this is all about creating a false market shortage to raise prices, while eliminating small time competitors. After all, the Big Protected Players in this game are upstanding millionaire citizens, who will never be subjected to these laws.

But this move will indeed raise the cost of renting a child for sex, which will make the protected Big Dealers much wealthier, while eliminating the small dealer competition outright through legal web-site destruction.

And since most of the big players are actually members of federal/state government and CEOs of major corporations, it also gives the Big Players a nice list of perverts who they can blackmail should the need arise at some later date.

Blackmail is probably one of the fastest growing business models in the world today, because the victims always remain silent.

Is a crime that is never reported, actually a crime?

Of course, this law and those pending, will also eliminate a ton of websites that are not actually advertising any kind of “sex4rent” along the way, but that’s just icing on the fascist cake.

Two things this law will not do, is protect children from sexual exploitation, or harm the real “sex4rent” industry.

bshock says:

As you say, Tim, shutting down sex-trafficking web sites was obviously never the intent of SESTA/FOSTA. And yet as I recall, back when Techdirt was discussing this insanely, stupidly dishonest legislation, there was a lot of talk about sex trafficking.

Sure, we expect the mainstreamers to get caught in the sex trap — they’re greedy idiots in search of viewers. But I also expected something better than retrospective smugness from Techdirt.

Michelle Kosik (profile) says:

They have a silent auction for me

They are going to kidnap me and I’m on my own . I have uploaded all the information on my Twitter account @kosikfl
It’s even the Better Business Bureau , Motor vehicles , all technology company , Sony , and every governments across the nation . I am not very high profile advocate . People are probably making complaints for me .

mike says:



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