WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a manager’s amendment to Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (S. 1693), and voted the bill out of committee. If enacted, the bill would greatly expand criminal liability for websites regarding illegal sex trafficking on their sites, and amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to make it easier for state prosecutors and civil plaintiffs to take action against website operators.
“Our fundamental concerns about the bill have not been addressed,” said Berin Szóka, President of TechFreedom. “Without significant modification, SESTA will harm the very people it’s intended to help: those exploited by sex trafficking. As drafted, the bill will discourage websites from actively monitoring their sites to help fight trafficking. The manager’s amendment attempts to avoid this perverse result by referencing the Good Samaritan immunity, but this will still leave websites vulnerable to being sued for knowledge they acquire in monitoring their sites. Among other needed reforms, we hope the House will consider adopting a notice and takedown system akin to that used to counter the proliferation of exploitation images. Making clear what websites need to do to avoid liability is the best way to fight trafficking; it will also protect websites, especially small sites from the potentially crushing liability the bill currently creates. The bill purports merely to deputize state AGs to enforce federal law but in fact, opens the door to new state laws that go beyond federal criminal law.”
“We look forward to helping to fix this flawed bill, either on the Senate floor or in the House, where there seems to be a greater understanding of the careful balance struck in passing Section 230,” concluded Szóka.
Read our recent blog post with Engine, examining Portman’s Amendment and the bill as a whole, “How SESTA Fails to Counter Sex Trafficking.”