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Legal Review: Big Tech Tries to Slow Trafficking Bill Prior to Vote

By sex crimes attorney Sean P. Barrett, who is barred and practices in the state of Connecticut, with Billings & Barrett.

Big tech companies across the country did their best to stop an anti-trafficking bill that made its way to the House at the end of February.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 388-25, was a huge defeat for big tech companies in Washington and beyond. The bill, known as FOSTA, moved to the Senate and was passed with a 97-2 vote.

President Donald Trump then signed the bill into law earlier in April. FOSTA is short for Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. Big tech fought hard to slow the bill down before it was passed because it reduces the free speech protections that were once in place for the Internet.

The bill has been endorsed by the Internet Association, which is the representative for Google and Facebook. On the other side of the aisle the bill was deemed as ill-fated because it will hurt small businesses and force sex workers to move offline.

The new legislation puts forth an exception to Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act. This act protects operates of websites from liability when it comes to content generated by users. FOSTA now says that Section 230 no longer applies to any civil or criminal charges of sex trafficking or conduct that facilitates or promotes prostitution.

The changes to Section 230 will be retroactively applied to all websites that fall under the new bill. In fact, Craigslist already removed its personals section to avoid any legal recourse from the new legislation. Another website, known as Backpage, has been shut down and the founders were criminally charged just before FOSTA was signed into law.

“Freedom of speech has always been a hot topic and now that some protections to free speech online have been removed the conversation should really heat up,” Sean P. Barrett, of Billings & Barrett, said.

Opposition to the bill includes sex workers, who claim they will have trouble screening clients since they will be forced offline. They worry that this will make things unsafe for them in their profession. It will take some time, but the new bill should give a clear picture of how the sex industry will operate moving forward.

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