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. identicon
    carlb, 27 Sep 2018 @ 7:36am

    Prostitutions dirty little secret? It pays the rent for the poor

    "The police cannot watch for traffickers on those sites because they either stop existing or stop carrying ads that lead to traffickers..."

    ...or they still exist, but they've all moved to Bleechistan to get away from American efforts to trample the 1st Amendment. Without a Bleechistani court order, there is no access to records or data - unlike Backpage, which was US-based and subject to US law.

    I look at news like https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/human-trafficking-pavao-windsor-sex-trade-1.4840039 in which a victim states "And the johns themselves — it always amazed me the one who's getting the service never bothered to ask, 'How old are you, are you OK, do you want to do this?' They just service themselves and go on to the next one" and can't help to note the obvious - if it's illegal to buy sex, the johns can't go to police to report suspected trafficking or abuse because the cop will jail the john, the victim or both - possibly while the pimps get off scot free. If there are immigration issues, the victim may be deported; the cops may also use this as an enforcement opportunity for other laws, such as those jailing drug addicts. There's also the not-so-minor detail that any info a witness or victim of crime gives police will be given to the accused (or their lawyers) when this goes to trial; that means a violent criminal now has the home addresses of these people, which can be used to retaliate.

    There is a need to distinguish consensual activity from trafficking and slavery. When police deliberately ignore the distinction, using platitudes like "You're just revictimizing them … you're exploiting people for sex and if there wasn't that form of exchange, whether that's money or whatever that exchange is, the consent would no longer be there," then it should be no surprise that johns and service providers do not call 9-1-1 (or other 112-style emergency numbers). The "I only do this for the money" could be said of many mainstream jobs... would you like fries with that?

    The FOSTA-like initiatives don't make these distinctions and that is by design. The intention isn't to shut down trafficking. The intention is to shut down discussion of all manner of consensual activity (for instance, everything in Craigslist Personals - some of it non-commercial). Silencing discussion does nothing to help victims of trafficking.

    Who does it affect most? Likely the small-time independent escort who, behind the scenes, turns out to be a divorced/single mum who needs the extra cash because it's the only way she can afford her exorbitant big-city rent on the first of the month. Politicians don't want you to see that; they want you to see the streetwalker with the pimp and the drug addiction as revictimising these people is a way to rack up cheap political points. Unfortunately, there is more to this than a blind assumption that everyone who engages in evil fornication is being trafficked and enslaved. That's why these interventions do more harm than good. Focus just on trafficking and slavery and a john or victim who sees something would be able to say something.

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