On March 21, the Senate passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 97-2. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) were the only votes against the bill.
The proposed legislation tweaks existing regulations to achieve its cause, notably Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That section of the law has been a relied upon protection for social media firms and other tech companies in that it protects them from legal liability associated with third party content posted by others and hosted on their sites.
The proposed legislation would amend Section 230 by including an exception for sex trafficking. Doing so, proponents say, will better allow legal efforts against well-known forums for prostitution and sex trafficking, such as Backpage.com. The bill is already having an effect: Crag’s List has announced it will purge its “personals” section of the site.
Over time, the nation’s largest tech companies, once in opposition to the plan, have relented.
In August 2017, tech trade groups jointly protested the Senate bill initiated by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), despite being “ready to work with Congress on effective measures to fight human trafficking.”
“We agree that further action must be taken to end sex trafficking crimes in our nation, particularly against minors, they wrote, expressing a caveat that amendments to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA230), “would severely undermine a crucial protection for legitimate online companies, and would be counterproductive to those companies’ efforts to combat trafficking crimes.”
“CDA230 is a bedrock legal protection for online services, ensuring that legitimate businesses can exist by providing that unknowing intermediaries including platforms, websites, ISPs, web-hosting providers, and online advertisers are not held liable for the actions of users,” the letter adds. “Without this crucial protection, these service providers would be forced to err on the side of removing their users’ content or face unsustainable liability for their users’ content that would harm the creation of legitimate diverse online services.”
Fast forward to November 2017 and support of early drafts of the legislation was much more straightforward.
“The Internet Association is committed to combating sexual exploitation and sex trafficking online and supports SESTA,” wrote Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman wrote, praising compromises that were made to the bill in order to prevent what critics feared would be an explosion of civil lawsuits.