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Senate panel moves forward with bill cracking down on online sex-trafficking
A key Senate committee plans to vote next week on a bill that would make websites liable for prosecution if they carry ads for illicit sex-trafficking.
By James Carlin
Contributor
Feb 22, 2018

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WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee said Wednesday that it will vote next week on a bill that makes it easier to prosecute Backpage.com and other sites that post ads for sexual services. The bill makes websites liable for prosecution if they run ads for content related to sex trafficking. Per a telecommunications law that Congress approved in 1996, only the individuals who post illicit ads onto websites have been liable, not the sites themselves.
Activists combatting human trafficking have blamed Internet advertising for sexual services for enabling sex-traffickers, especially those who sell sex with children. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) first introduced the bill in August as a way to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts and allow traffickers fewer places to hide.
Portman said in a statement that law-enforcement agencies strongly supported the bill as it would make it easier to shut down large volumes of online sex ads. He urged Congress to support law enforcement and to approve the bill so that they could "hold online sex traffickers accountable and give survivors the justice they deserve."
Some Internet technology companies are lobbying to stop the bill or at least narrow its scope, however. Facebook and Google Alphabet argued that making companies liable for the activities of their websites' users could stifle digital innovation and freedom of expression by tying digital companies up in endless torrents of lawsuits.
Around one-third of the Senate has expressed support for the bill, and a companion measure has amassed similarly sized backing in the House.