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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2015 @ 11:59am

    The bill's sponsors are more than happy to admit they're trying to attack Backpages and Craigslist.

    Hide the problem from public view and it has been solved.
    /S

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 24 Apr 2015 @ 12:10pm

    Time to start spamming Mark Kirk pages with links to Backpages.com

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 24 Apr 2015 @ 12:14pm

    A disgrace to Illinois is Mark Kirk!

    I am an Illinois resident, and Kirk is a self-serving pinhead! He doesn't care about his constituents or protecting people in the sex industries. He is a disgrace, and with help we will vote him out of a job in the next Senatorial election!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 24 Apr 2015 @ 12:17pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2015 @ 2:41pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2015 @ 12:36pm

    So the basic idea is the same as with child porn. Hide the content and pretend it doesnt happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2015 @ 12:53pm

    Two Parties

    100% evil

    All of the fighting, none of the liberty, & all over how they want to go about taking your liberty!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TDR, 24 Apr 2015 @ 12:59pm

    It's likely they don't go after traffickers themselves because politicians and the elite are among their top clients. Congress is probably full of them, and they're just protecting their suppliers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2015 @ 1:36pm

    You know, that nose I'm seeing under the tent looks like it's attached to SOPA...

    to switch metaphors in midstream, the first crack in the dike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Apr 2015 @ 1:38pm

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2015 @ 2:36pm

    why not pass a bill that gets rid of the pedophiles and rapists in congress and other high profile areas instead of protecting them and attacking any whistleblowers

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2015 @ 2:48pm

    'amend existing federal anti-trafficking law in vague ways that will be used to prosecute online content hosts for third-party content'

    but nothing will be done about true porn because there is too much money paid into the tax mans bag (and almost as much into the politicians pockets!)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2015 @ 1:26am

    Hang this obstructionist government. Deals like this should be tantamount to treason, if these deals are not in the public interest.

    Secrecy is the name of the terorrist. Not government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2015 @ 4:41am

    Smells like it is time for a diaper change, or to elect public servants whose continence is not in question.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2015 @ 6:40am

    Everything can be seen as sex trafficking...if someone tries to sell me a new PC and I 'happen' to have a very specific keyboard fetish........

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2015 @ 9:29am

    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!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 26 Apr 2015 @ 10:10am

    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?!?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2015 @ 4:40am

      Re: Hypocrites and liars all.

      "The Information Superhighway will only be good for criminal conduct! Might as well scrap this silly idea Mr.Gore!"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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