Sex Workers Push Back Against Anti-Trafficking Bill

WASHINGTON (CN) – A Republican lawmaker’s plan to protect children from being trafficked for sex over the internet drew opposition from sex worker advocates Monday.

Announcing a petition against the law proposed earlier this month, the San Francisco-based organization Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project predicted dire consequences if Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mt., follows through with her draft bill, the No Immunity for Sex Traffickers Online Act.

Wagner’s bill would change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act so that companies like Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat could be held liable if a minor is trafficked on their sites.

The statute currently states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 

Maxine Doogan, president of research project, accused Wagner of exploiting concerns about sex trafficking to undercut internet freedoms.

“This is just the latest attempt to shut down online sex work advertising,” Doogan said in a statement. “It will not stop sex work. All it will do is make sex workers less safe and vulnerable to violence and extortion.”

A representative from Doogan’s group did not return a request for comment.

Wagner’s bill comes amid heightened scrutiny of the classified ads that drew a years-long investigation of industry giant

With its executives facing pimping charges in California, Backpage closed its adult-services section in January on the same day that the Senate released a report about the site’s facilitation of child sex trafficking. Reliance on Section 230, however, has helped the website to duck civil claims from minors who say they were advertised for sex over the website.

“Congress never intended for Section 230 to give a free pass to the retailers of America’s children, and we must address the judicial interpretation of the law and provide a voice for the most vulnerable in our society,” Rep. Wagner said in a statement earlier this month.

The Care2 Doogan announced Monday petition has accrued 19,000 signatures already.

“We already have sufficient state and federal penalties to catch and punish people who force minors into prostitution, but this draft bill would make criminal all web publishers and platforms, essentially forcing them to pay up simply because predatory people violate the terms of use on their site,” Doogan said in a statement. “Not only does this unfair bill target the wrong people, but it would not actually prevent or stop child sex trafficking.”

Despite the potential for online backchannels to attracting illegal activity, the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls Section 230 “perhaps the most influential law to protect the kind of innovation that has allowed the internet to thrive since 1996.”

“This legal and policy framework has allowed for YouTube and Vimeo users to upload their own videos, Amazon and Yelp to offer countless user reviews, Craigslist to host classified ads and Facebook and Twitter to offer social networking to hundreds of millions of internet users,” the foundation says on its website. “Given the sheer size of user-generated websites, it would be infeasible for online intermediaries to prevent objectionable content from cropping on their site. Rather than face potential liability for their users actions, most would likely not host any user content at all or would need to protect themselves by being actively engaged in censoring what we say, what we see and what we do online.”

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