Village Voice Pimps Tony O and the Village Voice gets their own OSA hate site.

Discussion in 'Fair Game Reports and Personal Experiences' started by pooks, Oct 29, 2011.

  1. CEO, partners appear in Sacramento court on pimping, other charges


    Web site CEO Carl Ferrer made his first appearance in a Sacramento courtroom Wednesday to face charges of using his to run a multi-million dollar sex trafficking and prostitution ring.

    The appearance in Sacramento Superior Court comes days after Ferrer, 55, was arrested on a California warrant after arriving at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport on a flight from Amsterdam.

    Ferrer, who remains held without bail at Sacramento County Main Jail, faces 10 felony charges including pimping of a minor, pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping, according to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who in a statement said the arrested website executive and his leadership team "purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world's top online brothel."

    Backpage controlling shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin were arraigned on charges of conspiracy to commit pimping. All three men are to return to court Thursday, when they are expected to enter pleas.

    They also are scheduled for a Nov. 16 hearing where defense attorneys plan to argue against the complaint, saying it violates their clients’ First Amendment rights.

    The charges against the men are the result of a three-year joint investigation by Texas and California attorneys general official.

    The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported 2,900 incidents of suspected child sex trafficking since 2012 that occurred through the adult entertainment site’s classified ads, according to an affidavit.

    State attorney general's officials said nearly all of the website's income from January 2013 through March 2015 came from its adult section, while in California almost all of its $51 million in self-reported revenue from the same two-year period was made through advertising, officials said.

    Sex Workers Outreach Project of Sacramento, a sex workers’ advocacy group says the arrests fail to address the root causes of sexual exploitation and set a “dangerous precedent for free speech.”

    Group member Kimberlee Cline said online sites like provide a safer, more independent outlet for those working in the sex industry. Cline, who attended Wednesday’s hearing, said shutting down the website and its online advertising would put sex workers at greater risk, sending them back to the streets to ply their trade.

    “I don’t think this is relevant to helping the people who are struggling. If Backpage closes down, they’ll look for less safe avenues of work,” Cline said outside the courtroom. “Nothing is happening in that courtroom that’s going to help people. It’s going to make people a lot less safe.”

  2. The Wrong Guy Member

    California Attorney General Kamala Harris Wants to Imprison the Owners of and Curtail Internet Freedom

    By Stephen Lemons, Phoenix New Times


    If the televised images of Michael Lacey, Jim Larkin, and Carl Ferrer caged and wearing orange jumpsuits in a California courtroom, fighting for the right to be released on bail after spending several days last month in a Sacramento jail, didn't send a chill up your spine, they should have.

    That's because the charges these men face regarding the online-classified-ad giant — one felony count of conspiring to pimp for each of the three men, plus nine felony counts of pimping for Ferrer — are the product of a prosecutorial overreach that might seem ridiculous if it didn't have such serious ramifications for defendants, for the internet as we know it, and for the First Amendment.

    Larkin and Lacey, the co-founders and former owners of the Phoenix New Times and the chain of weeklies to which it belongs, traveled to Sacramento to turn themselves in just days after the October 6 arrest of Ferrer in Houston, and the raid on the Backpage offices in Dallas by three dozen members of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's Law Enforcement Unit.

    Paxton was working in concert with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who issued a press release that same day trumpeting Ferrer's arrest on allegations brought by her office that he, along with Lacey and Larkin, had conspired to make Backpage "the world's top online brothel."

    According to the charging documents, Lacey and Larkin sold Backpage in 2014 to a Dutch company formed by Ferrer, who continued as CEO. Still, Harris' press release describes the two former owners as the "controlling shareholders" in the enterprise.

    Warrants were issued for Lacey's and Larkin's arrests on the curious legal theory that California's pimping laws, which make it illegal to knowingly derive "support or maintenance" from the earnings of a prostitute, can be applied so broadly as to hold criminally liable the owners of a website that allows users to post advertisements for everything from kitchen implements and pet-sitters to transgender escorts and foot-worship fetishists.

    The fees paid to Backpage by the nine alleged victims in the case total $79.60. The prosecution makes no claim that the accused knew the people who placed the ads or even had seen the ads themselves.

    Six of the victims were minors. One, identified as A.C., told an investigator that she'd used a prepaid credit card to buy her ad on Backpage. Asked if she had difficulty doing so as 16-year-old, she said, "Well, no, how are they supposed to know I'm underage?"

    Obviously, the Backpage Three don't fit the definition of pimps in the traditional sense of toughs who hold others in thrall via mental or physical intimidation. And Harris' legal rationale for charging the men in this manner is so elastic that it could be applied to the owner of a doughnut shop that caters to the denizens of a red-light district, or to the store that sold A.C. that prepaid credit card.

    Harris, who at the time of the arrests was running as a Democrat to replace U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and has since been elected to that post by an overwhelming margin, argued to keep the three men in custody, contending that any money they might use to meet bail would be tainted by the illegality of their venture.

    A judge disagreed. Ferrer was released on a $500,000 bond, Lacey and Larkin on $250,000 apiece.

    So far, the three men have not entered pleas in the case, but Lacey and Larkin issued a scathing statement, contending that Harris was well aware she possessed "no legal authority" to bring charges.

    As this issue goes to press, the defendants are due back in Sacramento Superior Court for a November 16 hearing before Judge Michael G. Bowman. Their attorneys will seek to have the charges dismissed on the grounds that Harris' prosecution violates their First Amendment rights as publishers and that it is impermissible under Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA).

    Bowman might issue a decision on the day of the hearing. If he doesn't dismiss the charges, the case will wend its way to trial. If convicted, Lacey and Larkin face prison sentences of up to six years, and Ferrer is looking at up to 21 years.

    Kamala Harris' bogus portrayal of as an online pop-up whorehouse conveniently ignores historical fact. During the 1980s and '90s, print publications derived a large chunk of their revenue from classified ads. Then along came Craigslist, which took classifieds online, did away with charging fees for much of the content, and essentially ate the competition's lunch. In response, newspapers had to migrate their classified systems online. That included adult advertising, which had long been a component of print's client base. New Times called its online classified listings Backpage as a marketing nod to the publication's back cover, which for years had served as prime real estate for small-print solicitations.

    A decade later, Craigslist capitulated to legal pressure to ban categories such as escort services, but Lacey and Larkin chose to assert their right to publish. Ultimately, that decision to stand behind the First Amendment led the partners to relinquish ownership of the newspaper chain they'd built from Phoenix New Times up.

    Described by one writer as "the fairy godmother of the Internet," Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was passed by Congress in 1996 with the express intent, in the words of the statute, to preserve "the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation."

    To this end, Section 230 shields the proprietors of interactive online sites from civil and criminal liability, except in certain defined circumstances, including violations of federal criminal law. Otherwise, the statute states, "No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section."

    In practice, Section 230 prevents Twitter from being sued for a libelous statement tweeted out by one of its millions of users. It prevents Facebook from being prosecuted for aiding and abetting, say, a stalker or a con man who uses the social-networking site to victimize others. And it keeps ordinary bloggers free from any civil or criminal liability resulting from a commenter posting something untoward on their blog without their knowledge, such as revenge- or kiddie-porn.

    This is why so many legal observers have taken issue with Harris' crusade against Backpage, which operates in more than 800 cities worldwide and reportedly generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year, the lion's share of it from adult ads.

    In a commentary on the Backpage arrests for, Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman called the attorney general's criminal complaint "a fairly astonishing document" and lambasted the legal theory underpinning it as a dangerous one that could outlaw "any publication that sells ads."

    Which is pretty much every publication on the planet.

    Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and director of that school's High Tech Law Institute, has closely followed Backpage's legal run-ins on his Technology & Marketing Law Blog. In an interview for this column, he warns that regardless of how the current case plays out, it already has had a chilling effect on internet publishers.

    Continued here:
  3. The Wrong Guy Member

    California Judge Issues Tentative Ruling, Throws Out Criminal Charges Against CEO and Former Owners of

    By Stephen Lemons, Phoenix New Times


    In an apparent rebuke of California Attorney General and U.S. Senator-elect Kamala Harris, a Sacramento judge has found in favor of the current CEO and two former owners of online classified site, granting a tentative ruling dismissing criminal charges against the three men on Wednesday, hours before oral arguments are to occur.

    Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman was unconvinced by the prosecution's argument that Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and former owners Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey knowingly profited from prostitution via adult ads on the site. Bowman ruled that Backpage did not create the ads and thus its owners are immune to prosecution under Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA).

    Continued here:
  4. The Wrong Guy Member 'Censors' Itself on Eve of U.S. Senate Subcommittee Testimony | Phoenix New Times

    In a bombshell development on the eve of a January 10 hearing convened by the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that was to include testimony from the creators of, the online classifieds giant has shuttered its controversial adult listings section.

    Current and Former Backpage Execs Take the Fifth at U.S. Senate Hearing | Phoenix New Times

    Five current and former executives of the online classified-advertising behemoth invoked their rights under the First and Fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution this morning before a U.S. Senate panel investigating child sex trafficking.
  5. The Wrong Guy Member

  6. Incredulicide Member

    • Like Like x 1
  7. DeathHamster Member

    It remains to be seen if they've really busted Backpage for anything legit, or if this is a crackdown by the Holy Roller Brigade in anticipation of the SESTA Act (which hasn't been signed into law yet).
    An article from the Cato Institute (Koch Bro) of all places:
  8. Department of Justice has put out a statement and linked to their indictment regarding their seizure of

    Department of Justice
    Office of Public Affairs

    Monday, April 9, 2018
    Justice Department Leads Effort to Seize Backpage.Com, the Internet’s Leading Forum for Prostitution Ads, and Obtains 93-Count Federal Indictment

    Note: To view the indictment click here.

    The Justice Department today announced the seizure of, the Internet’s leading forum for prostitution ads, including ads depicting the prostitution of children. Additionally, seven individuals have been charged in a 93-count federal indictment with the crimes of conspiracy to facilitate prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce, facilitating prostitution using a facility in interstate or foreign commerce, conspiracy to commit money laundering, concealment money laundering, international promotional money laundering, and transactional money laundering.|

    The seven defendants charged in the indictment are Michael Lacey, 69, of Paradise Valley, Arizona; James Larkin, 68, of Paradise Valley, Arizona; Scott Spear, 67, of Scottsdale, Arizona; John E. “Jed” Brunst, 66, of Phoenix, Arizona; Daniel Hyer, 49, of Dallas, Texas; Andrew Padilla, 45, of Plano, Texas and Jaala Joye Vaught, 37, of Addison, Texas.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange for the District of Arizona, U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna of the Central District of California, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, U.S. Postal Inspection Service Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell and Chief Don Fort of Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.

    “For far too long, existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike,” said Attorney General Sessions. “But this illegality stops right now. Last Friday, the Department of Justice seized Backpage, and it can no longer be used by criminals to promote and facilitate human trafficking. I want to thank everyone who made this important seizure possible: all of our dedicated and committed professionals in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and our U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Arizona, the FBI, our partners with the IRS Criminal Investigation, our Postal Inspectors, and the Texas and California Attorney Generals’ offices. With their help, we have put an end to the violence, abuse, and heartache that has been perpetrated using this site, and we have taken a major step toward keeping women and children across America safe.”

    “Backpage has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking, placing profits over the well-being and safety of the many thousands of women and children who were victimized by its practices,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange. “It is appropriate that Backpage is now facing criminal charges in Arizona, where the company was founded, and I applaud the tremendous efforts of the agents who contributed to last Friday’s enforcement action and who assisted in obtaining the indictment in this case. Some of the internal emails and company documents described in the indictment are shocking in their callousness.”

    “This website will no longer serve as a platform for human traffickers to thrive, and those who were complicit in its use to exploit human beings for monetary gain will be held accountable for their heinous actions,” said FBI Director Wray. “Whether on the street or on the Internet, sex trafficking will not be tolerated. Together with our law enforcement partners, the FBI will continue to vigorously combat this activity and protect those who are victimized.”

    “The events of last Friday and today are a big win, not only for the agents who investigated these crimes, but more importantly for the victims, including children, who were harmed as a consequence of the alleged actions of,” said Chief Postal Inspector Cottrell. “By laundering the illegal gains of an enterprise, Backpage perpetuated the exploitation of victims and continued to finance their business. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting our customers by stopping the money laundering to ensure the cycle of victimization ends.”

    “An indictment of this magnitude is particularly troubling when you look at the various layers of corruption and exploitation that are alleged to have occurred,” said IRS-CI Chief Fort. “The masterminds behind Backpage are not only alleged to have committed egregious amounts of financial crimes such as money laundering, they did so at the expense of innocent women and children. While these types of investigations can be made more challenging with the use of virtual currency, offshore banking, and the anonymity of the Internet, it should serve as an example to all criminals that there is not a place they can hide where we will not find them.”

    The charges and allegations contained in an indictment are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

    The effort to seize Backpage was led by the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, with significant support from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the office of the California Attorney General, and the office of the Texas Attorney General. The law enforcement agencies conducting the investigation and seizure include the FBI Phoenix Field Office, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and IRS-CI. The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin Rapp, Dominic Lanza, and Margaret Perlmeter of the District of Arizona and Senior Trial Attorney Reginald E. Jones of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kucera of the Central District of California is handling the asset forfeiture aspects of the case.
    Criminal Division
    Press Release Number:
    18 - 427
  9. Incredulicide Member


    Trump signs law against online sex trafficking

    By Gabrielle Fonrouge
    April 11, 2018 | 2:14pm

    President Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act into law Wednesday morning, marking a victory for the hundreds of thousands of victims across the country.

    Yvonne Ambrose, a mom who lost her daughter to sex trafficking, teared up during the historic signing ceremony and in a poignant moment, accepted the pen used to sign the bill as a gift from the president.

    FOSTA (previously labeled SESTA, or the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) paves the way for law enforcement to crack down on websites that facilitate sex trafficking, such as Backpage, Craigslist and other platforms where victims of human trafficking are bought and sold. Previously, websites were protected by the Communications Decency Act, which shielded them from being held responsible for the content other users may post to their domain.

    Now, websites can be held accountable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking.

    “Trafficking is probably worse today than at any time in our history,” the president said during the signing ceremony.

    “You are not alone.”

    Numbers on human trafficking are difficult to report as the practice mostly happens online and behind closed doors. The advocacy group Polaris, which has the most comprehensive data on human trafficking, estimates the number of victims to be in “the hundreds of thousands.”

    Last week, was seized by the Department of Justice even before the bill was signed into law. The move was heralded as a “huge victory” for victims by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri), who spearheaded the historic legislation.

    “Those women and children that have been sold with impunity by Backpage for 15 years,” Wagner told CNN.

    Aside from Backpage, Wagner said just the introduction of the bill has disrupted “87 percent of the global ad volume.”

    “Thirty-plus websites and online platforms have either shut down or had major policy changes,” Wagner said.

    Craigslist shuttered its personal ads section and Reddit changed its policy on “paid services involving physical sexual contact.”

    Wagner said the new law will build on these victories.

    “This legislation is going to give prosecutors the tools that they need to make sure that no online website, platform, business can ever reach the size and scope of,” Wagner said, noting various websites that facilitate sex trafficking and have grown over the years.

    “Escorts in College, Massage Troll, Erotic Review, Night Shift, CityVibe, My Scarlet Book,” Wagner rattled off.

    She got behind this issue when she realized how rampant the sex trafficking problem was in the United States and how it was not limited to far-flung countries overseas.

    “It’s hiding in plain sight in our own country,” Wagner said.

    She added there has been an 846 percent increase in child sex trafficking reports over the last five years and that problem is compounded by its move from the streets to the internet.

    “People can order up little girls to a hotel room as easy as they could takeout,” Wagner remarked.

    The legislation was a bipartisan victory, garnering praise from both sides of the aisle, but the measure has been heavily criticized by legitimate sex workers who say the law is too restrictive and makes their already dangerous jobs much worse.

    Many sex workers have spoken out about how Backpage was their main source of revenue and how websites like VerifyMe — a site that sex workers used to report dates who were rapists, violent or seeking to rob sex workers — have been shut down in the wake of FOSTA, leaving the workers extremely vulnerable.

    Last week, a sex workers’ alternative to Twitter called Switter sprang up and has since gained signups from over 28,000 users, BuzzFeed reported.

    It bills itself as a decentralized social networking platform that’s a safer alternative for sex workers than Facebook and Twitter because it gathers less data on the user.
  11. DeathHamster Member

    They closed their sex ads section in 2011, so this is collateral damage. There will be more.
    That seems like a dodgy statistic, and "suspected" is a weasel-word. Exactly what was their methodology, and how accurate is it? (One is too many, of course, but throwing around big numbers that might not be true doesn't help.)

    From an article looking at similar problems:
    • Like Like x 1
  12. CEO pleads guilty, will testify against others

    By Associated Press |
    PUBLISHED:April 13, 2018 at 10:51 am| UPDATED:April 13, 2018 at 10:59 am

    By DON THOMPSON | The Associated Press

    SACRAMENTO — The chief executive of pleaded guilty to state and federal charges including conspiracy and money laundering, and agreed to testify in ongoing prosecutions against others at the website that authorities have dubbed a lucrative nationwide “online brothel,” authorities said.

    “For far too long, existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “But this illegality stops right now.”

    Backpage brought in a half-billion dollars since it began in 2004, mostly though prominent risque advertising for escorts and massages, among other services and some goods for sale, according to federal prosecutors. Authorities allege the site was often used to traffic underage victims, while company officials said they tried to scrub the site of such ads.

    Chief Executive Officer Carl Ferrer will serve no more than five years in prison under a California agreement in which he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering in California. Also Thursday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the company pleaded guilty to human trafficking.

    And a federal judge in Phoenix unsealed an April 5 plea deal revealing that Ferrer pleaded guilty to conspiracy, and pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy.

    Under his plea agreement, Ferrer agreed to make the company’s data available to law enforcement as investigations and prosecutions continue. The guilty pleas are the latest in a cascade of developments in the last week against the company founded by the former owners of the Village Voice in New York City, Michael Lacey, 69, and James Larkin, 68.

    The company founders were among Backpage officials indicted by a federal grand jury in Arizona.Attorneys for the company and Lacey, Larkin and Ferrer did not respond to multiple telephone and email messages from The Associated Press.

    The U.S. Justice Department also seized and shut down the website, and Ferrer’s federal plea deal requires him to help the government seize all the company’s assets.

    Ferrer could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine in the federal case in Arizona, while could face a maximum fine of $500,000 for its money laundering conspiracy plea in the Arizona case.

    The federal plea deal says any prison sentence Ferrer would face would run concurrent with his 5-year terms in Texas and California.

    “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it is happening in our own backyard,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the plea deal. He called Ferrer’s plea “a game-changer in combatting human trafficking in California, indeed worldwide.”

    Larkin and Lacey remain jailed in Arizona while awaiting hearings on whether they should be released after pleading not guilty to federal charges alleging they helped publish ads for sexual services.

    Five employees of the site also were arrested and pleaded not guilty, but Lacey and Larkin are the only ones in jail.

    Lacey and Larkin also earlier pleaded not guilty in California after Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Larry Brown last year allowed the state to continue with money laundering charges. The state attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, alleges that Backpage’s operators illegally funneled nearly $45 million through multiple companies and created websites to get around banks that refused to process their transactions.

    But Brown threw out pimping conspiracy and other state charges against Backpage’s operators. Brown ruled that the charges are barred by a federal law protecting free speech that grants immunity to websites posting content from others.

    President Donald Trump this week signed a law making it easier to prosecute website operators in the future.

    Texas state agents raided the Dallas headquarters of Backpage and arrested Ferrer on a California warrant after he arrived at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport on a flight from Amsterdam on Oct. 6, 2016. The Dutch-owned company is incorporated in Delaware, but its principal place of business is in Dallas.

    Paxon called Thursday’s pleas “a significant victory in the fight against human trafficking in Texas and around the world.”


    Associated Press writers Terry Wallace in Dallas and Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this story.
  13. DeathHamster Member

    So, no trafficking charges, no pimping charges, just illegal money-moving.

    The sex ads will go elsewhere, again, bringing destruction with them as the Holy Roller Brigade fires their FOSTA cannon at any site with what looks like a sex ad, delivering massive splash damage. Eventually the real sex ads will go offshore, out of range, until blocked by the Great American Firewall.
    Multiply that by every little niche personals site out there on the net.

    Meanwhile, the tipoffs that backpage was giving law enforcement about trafficking ads have stopped. Bravo!

    The beginning of the end for the online American slave trade

    by Rep. Ann Wagner
    and Rep. Mimi Walters
    April 23, 2018 12:00 AM
    A girl on an empty street corner. A dirty massage parlor. A backroom in a nightclub.

    This is how we imagine the commercial sex industry. But like so many other American industries, technology has transformed this market, moving sex trafficking from the streets to the Internet. Today, the majority of underage victims are advertised or sold online. In recent years, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has witnessed an 846 percent increase in suspected child sex trafficking reports. Of these reports, 81 percent concern online trafficking, facilitated by websites that help traffickers post advertisements.

    This month, we took a major step forward to combat the online sex trafficking industry when H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA, became law. This legislation will give federal, state, and local prosecutors the tools they need to ensure that online businesses can no longer exploit children, women, and men with impunity. It will also allow survivors to seek justice against the websites that knowingly facilitated their sale and abuse.

    FOSTA is the most significant anti-trafficking law Congress has passed in nearly 20 years. But it is just the latest of many steps House Republicans have taken to fight human trafficking. Over the past year, Congress has launched a tremendous effort to aid victims; prevent children, women, and men from being trafficked; and prosecute pimps and buyers.

    We have established grant programs through bills, such as the SOAR to Health and Wellness Act, to train and equip healthcare providers to identify trafficking victims. We have authorized service programs through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and Put Trafficking Victims First Act to help survivors re-establish their lives. And we’ve passed criminal justice reforms, like FOSTA, that will transform the fight against the online marketplaces that profit from this form of modern-day slavery. was the largest and best known of these websites, but that was just one part of a sophisticated and lucrative industry. Hundreds of advertising sites have jumped into the commercial sex market, many of which are far more explicit than For example, “Eros” serves the high-end market; “Escorts in College” advertised women close to and under the age of consent; is everywhere in California; and “Massage Troll” was popular in the Midwest. Beyond these advertising hubs, there are also hobby boards, websites like “The Erotic Review” where johns posted reviews describing their criminal encounters.

    It is critically important that we create significant legal consequences for the online businesses that knowingly exploit the most vulnerable. FOSTA helps prosecutors better target these websites and serves as a wake-up call to businesses that they cannot commit crimes online they could never commit offline.

    Following passage of FOSTA, numerous websites shut down pages and message boards that could potentially be used by sex traffickers to facilitate their nefarious activities. Notably, Craigslist shut down its “personals” section, Cityvibe completely suspended operations, and “The Erotic Review” completely closed down accessibility in the United States. Additionally, Reddit implemented new policies banning the sale of sex acts and marked prostitution-related “subreddits” as private; Paypal disabled advertised accounts for commercial sex-related payments; and Google deleted sex-related commercial advertising. While these actions are a positive step, they are only one part of the larger effort to end online sex trafficking.

    This new law demonstrates to law enforcement and prosecutors that we believe in and support their missions to protect our communities. It is a message to the victims who have been robbed of their basic dignities that we hear them and are outraged by the injustice they faced. And in many ways, it is a simple statement of the obvious: We do not believe, and have never believed, that sex trafficking is a condition of the free and open Internet.

    We introduced FOSTA because it is heartbreaking to watch survivors struggle to piece their lives back together while our justice system shields the websites that knowingly facilitate this heinous crime. Thanks to our committed House Leadership and our colleagues who voted “YES” on H.R. 1865, these survivors will no longer be alone, and justice will no longer be out of reach.

    Rep. Ann Wagner, a Republican, represents Missouri's 2nd Congressional District. Rep. Mimi Walters, a Republican, represents California's 45th Congressional District.
  15. DeathHamster Member

    How Congress Censored the Internet

    In Passing SESTA/FOSTA, Lawmakers Failed to Separate Their Good Intentions from Bad Law

    Today was a dark day for the Internet.

    The U.S. Senate just voted 97-2 to pass the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA, H.R. 1865), a bill that silences online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. As lobbyists and members of Congress applaud themselves for enacting a law tackling the problem of trafficking, let’s be clear: Congress just made trafficking victims less safe, not more.

    The version of FOSTA that just passed the Senate combined an earlier version of FOSTA (what we call FOSTA 2.0) with the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA, S. 1693). The history of SESTA/FOSTA—a bad bill that turned into a worse bill and then was rushed through votes in both houses of Congress—is a story about Congress’ failure to see that its good intentions can result in bad law. It’s a story of Congress’ failure to listen to the constituents who’d be most affected by the laws it passed. It’s also the story of some players in the tech sector choosing to settle for compromises and half-wins that will put ordinary people in danger.

    Silencing Internet Users Doesn’t Make Us Safer

    SESTA/FOSTA undermines Section 230, the most important law protecting free speech online. Section 230 protects online platforms from liability for some types of speech by their users. Without Section 230, the Internet would look very different. It’s likely that many of today’s online platforms would never have formed or received the investment they needed to grow and scale—the risk of litigation would have simply been too high. Similarly, in absence of Section 230 protections, noncommercial platforms like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive likely wouldn’t have been founded given the high level of legal risk involved with hosting third-party content.

    Importantly, Section 230 does not shield platforms from liability under federal criminal law. Section 230 also doesn’t shield platforms across-the-board from liability under civil law: courts have allowed civil claims against online platforms when a platform directly contributed to unlawful speech. Section 230 strikes a careful balance between enabling the pursuit of justice and promoting free speech and innovation online: platforms can be held responsible for their own actions, and can still host user-generated content without fear of broad legal liability.

    SESTA/FOSTA upends that balance, opening platforms to new criminal and civil liability at the state and federal levels for their users’ sex trafficking activities. The platform liability created by new Section 230 carve outs applies retroactively—meaning the increased liability applies to trafficking that took place before the law passed. The Department of Justice has raised concerns [.pdf] about this violating the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause, at least for the criminal provisions.

    The bill also expands existing federal criminal law to target online platforms where sex trafficking content appears. The bill is worded so broadly that it could even be used against platform owners that don’t know that their sites are being used for trafficking.

    Finally, SESTA/FOSTA expands federal prostitution law to cover those who use the Internet to “promote or facilitate prostitution.”

    It’s easy to see the impact that this ramp-up in liability will have on online speech: facing the risk of ruinous litigation, online platforms will have little choice but to become much more restrictive in what sorts of discussion—and what sorts of users—they allow, censoring innocent people in the process.

    What forms that erasure takes will vary from platform to platform. For some, it will mean increasingly restrictive terms of service—banning sexual content, for example, or advertisements for legal escort services. For others, it will mean over-reliance on automated filters to delete borderline posts. No matter what methods platforms use to mitigate their risk, one thing is certain: when platforms choose to err on the side of censorship, marginalized voices are censored disproportionately. The Internet will become a less inclusive place, something that hurts all of us.

    Big Tech Companies Dont Speak for Users

    SESTA/FOSTA supporters boast that their bill has the support of the technology community, but it’s worth considering what they mean by “technology.” IBM and Oracle—companies whose business models don’t heavily rely on Section 230—were quick to jump onboard. Next came the Internet Association, a trade association representing the world’s largest Internet companies, companies that will certainly be able to survive SESTA while their smaller competitors struggle to comply with it.

    Those tech companies simply don’t speak for the Internet users who will be silenced under the law. And tragically, the people likely to be censored the most are trafficking victims themselves.

    SESTA/FOSTA Will Put Trafficking Victims in More Danger

    Throughout the SESTA/FOSTA debate, the bills’ proponents provided little to no evidence that increased platform liability would do anything to reduce trafficking. On the other hand, the bills’ opponents have presented a great deal of evidence that shutting down platforms where sexual services are advertised exposes trafficking victims to more danger.

    Freedom Network USA—the largest national network of organizations working to reduce trafficking in their communities—spoke out early to express grave concerns [.pdf] that removing sexual ads from the Internet would also remove the best chance trafficking victims had of being found and helped by organizations like theirs as well as law enforcement agencies.

    Reforming [Section 230] to include the threat of civil litigation could deter responsible website administrators from trying to identify and report trafficking.

    It is important to note that responsible website administration can make trafficking more visible—which can lead to increased identification. There are many cases of victims being identified online—and little doubt that without this platform, they would have not been identified. Internet sites provide a digital footprint that law enforcement can use to investigate trafficking into the sex trade, and to locate trafficking victims. When websites are shut down, the sex trade is pushed underground and sex trafficking victims are forced into even more dangerous circumstances.

    Freedom Network was far from alone. Since SESTA was introduced, many experts have chimed in to point out the danger that SESTA would put all sex workers in, including those who are being trafficked. Sex workers themselves have spoken out too, explaining how online platforms have literally saved their lives. Why didn’t Congress bring those experts to its deliberations on SESTA/FOSTA over the past year?

    While we can’t speculate on the agendas of the groups behind SESTA, we can study those same groups’ past advocacy work. Given that history, one could be forgiven for thinking that some of these groups see SESTA as a mere stepping stone to banning pornography from the Internet or blurring the legal distinctions between sex work and trafficking.

    In all of Congress’ deliberations on SESTA, no one spoke to the experiences of the sex workers that the bill will push off of the Internet and onto the dangerous streets. It wasn’t surprising, then, when the House of Representatives presented its “alternative” bill, one that targeted those communities more directly.

    “Compromise” Bill Raises New Civil Liberties Concerns

    In December, the House Judiciary Committee unveiled its new revision of FOSTA. FOSTA 2.0 had the same inherent flaw that its predecessor had—attaching more liability to platforms for their users’ speech does nothing to fight the underlying criminal behavior of traffickers.

    In a way, FOSTA 2.0 was an improvement: the bill was targeted only at platforms that intentionally facilitated prostitution, and so would affect a narrower swath of the Internet. But the damage it would do was much more blunt: it would expand federal prostitution law such that online platforms would have to take down any posts that could potentially be in support of any sex work, regardless of whether there’s an indication of force or coercion, or whether minors were involved.

    FOSTA 2.0 didn’t stop there. It criminalized using the Internet to “promote or facilitate” prostitution. Activists who work to reduce harm in the sex work community—by providing health information, for example, or sharing lists of dangerous clients—were rightly worried that prosecutors would attempt to use this law to put their work in jeopardy.

    Regardless, a few holdouts in the tech world believed that their best hope of stopping SESTA was to endorse a censorship bill that would do slightly less damage to the tech industry.

    They should have known it was a trap.

    SESTA/FOSTA: The Worst of Both Worlds

    That brings us to last month, when a new bill combining SESTA and FOSTA was rushed through congressional procedure and overwhelmingly passed the House.

    Thousands of you picked up your phone and called your senators, urging them to oppose the new Frankenstein bill. And you weren’t alone: EFF, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and many other experts pleaded with Congress to recognize the dangers to free speech and online communities that the bill presented.

    Even the Department of Justice wrote a letter urging Congress not to go forward with the hybrid bill [.pdf]. The DOJ said that the expansion of federal criminal law in SESTA/FOSTA was simply unnecessary, and could possibly undermine criminal investigations. When the Department of Justice is the group urging Congress not to expand criminal law and Congress does it anyway, something is very wrong.

    Assuming that the president signs it into law, SESTA/FOSTA is the most significant rollback to date of the protections for online speech in Section 230. We hope that it’s the last, but it may not be. Over the past year, we’ve seen more calls than ever to create new exceptions to Section 230.

    In any case, we will continue to fight back against proposals that undermine our right to speak and gather online. We hope you’ll stand with us.

    [IMG] doj-sesta.pdf

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