Legislators Pushing A Patriot Act, But For Human Trafficking In The Wake Of FOSTA

from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept

When you're looking to expand the government's power, any crisis will do. Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, legislators told us the terrorists hated us for our freedom. Then they rushed through the Patriot Act, demonstrating how much our own government hates us for our freedoms.

In the name of national security, the government was allowed to engage in warrantless searches (and warrantless wiretapping) as the Fourth Amendment was sacrificed to make way for secure skies and secure borders. More of the same is on tap at the federal level, thanks to another "crisis" -- one mostly manufactured by a number of government officials who want to expand their power in the name of all the trafficked children in the world.

Sex trafficking is the name of the game -- even if the game board seems mostly devoid of players. A number of grandstanders have taken shots at big online services, playing shoot the message board since it's easier to serve Craigslist, Backpage, or whoever than track down actual traffickers.

One of these grandstanders is Rep. Ann Wagner. Wagner has been leading the charge to destroy Section 230 immunity under the pretense of hunting down sex traffickers. Sex traffickers will go on trafficking. They'll just be harder to find. Meanwhile, the web gets worse for everyone as websites become less willing to provide platforms for third-party content.

Wagner has made outrageous claims and pushed hard for outrageous legislation. She was one of the leading forces behind FOSTA. But she's not done yet. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown points out in her excellent article for Reason, Wagner's new bill is another Patriot Act -- but with "human trafficking" standing in for "worldwide terrorism."

Wagner's bill (H.R. 6729)—the deceptively named the "Empowering Financial Institutions to Fight Human Trafficking Act" of 2018—is the latest in a long line of assaults on civil liberties disguised as attacks on the biggest crime panic of the decade, sex trafficking. Wagner alone brought us the SAVE Act in 2015 and FOSTA in 2018, both of which take aim at online anonymity, web publishing, social media, sex workers, and free speech under the guise of saving children from "modern slavery."

Specifically, H.R. 6729 would allow financial institutions, federal regulatory bodies, nonprofit organizations, and law enforcement to share customer bank records between them without running afoul of rules regarding consumer privacy and without opening themselves up to lawsuits. Ostensibly, this would be done "in order to better identify and report potential human trafficking or money laundering activities."

Wagner will strip immunity from websites and serve up immunity to banks. This plan to end sex trafficking isn't being carried out in good faith. Distorted facts, distorted stats, and a whole bunch of made up data is par for the course. So, it makes sense the banks won't have to operate in good faith either.

But these entities need not demonstrate that the "sharing was made on a good faith basis," according to the current text of the bill.

This sounds like legislative encouragement for fishing expeditions -- both by law enforcement and by financial institutions. The Patriot Act's expansion of government power already lowered the bar for law enforcement, allowing it to obtain records without subpoenas or judicial review. This bill expands the Patriot Act's confines past the War on Terror to sweep up anything that could conceivably be imagined as related to human trafficking.

The government has already abused the Patriot Act to investigate strip clubs, as Nolan Brown points out. Dropping the national security pretense will allow government agencies to dig into thousands or millions of additional financial transactions. Anything that looks like overreach will be excused by concern for the children or the supposed wiliness of sex traffickers.

Filed Under: ann wagner, civil liberties, fosta, human trafficking, patriot act, privacy, sex trafficking, surveillance


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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 26 Sep 2018 @ 3:24pm

    "Sex traffickers will go on trafficking." -- Do nothing, eh?

    The point is not to “do nothing”. The point is that FOSTA and laws of its kind make the job of the police who investigate these crimes more difficult. While this bill might make that job easier in comparison, it would come at a worse cost to privacy and civil rights than the passage of the Patriot Act. Of these three possibilities, which would you prefer?

    1. The police can watch for traffickers on sites like Backpage and Craigslist while doing nothing to (generally) intrude on the average person’s privacy.

    2. The police cannot watch for traffickers on those sites because they either stop existing or stop carrying ads that lead to traffickers. They still cannot (generally) intrude on the average person’s privacy.

    3. The police can watch for traffickers on basically any website and intrude upon the average person’s privacy during the course of an investigation.

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