U.S. House Approves Law Targeting Sex Trafficking Ads, Threatens to Undermine Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Contact

On May 20, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2014 (“SAVE Act”). If enacted, the bill would expose websites and other media to federal criminal penalties for publishing ads for sex trafficking. But the bill could have unintended consequences and chill free speech on the Internet.

The SAVE Act would amend 18 U.S.C. § 1591, which imposes a minimum 10-year sentence on anyone who “recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, or maintains” any person, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that either (1) force, fraud, or coercion will be used to cause someone to engage in a commercial sex act, or (2) any means will be used to cause a minor to engage in such an act. The law also makes it a crime to knowingly benefit financially from participating in a venture for such trafficking. The SAVE Act would add “advertises” to the list of predicate acts and impose the same criminal penalties on websites and other media as on the participant in the underlying sex trafficking crime.

By its terms, the SAVE Act would apply to persons who knowingly advertise the prohibited sex trafficking acts, but does not define “knowingly” or “advertises.” The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), stated that the bill would require the government to prove websites or other publishers “knew the advertisement involved a minor or a coerced adult.” But Section 1591 already criminalizes such knowing participation in sex trafficking. Other representatives who support the SAVE Act suggested the bill would allow prosecutors to bring charges against websites that host unlawful third-party content, singling out in their criticism Backpage.com and Google.

Free speech and Internet industry groups, including the ACLU and Center for Democracy and Technology, have warned the SAVE Act could have “unintended consequences for free speech online.” See www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/anti-backpagecom-bill-will-shut-down-free-speech; see also www.cdt.org/blog/save-act-endangers-online-content-platforms/. They note the bill will allow prosecutors or anyone else who dislikes content to complain and force the content to be taken down, because online providers faced with potential criminal liability will simply censor speech, whether it is lawful or not. These groups also say the SAVE Act will give online providers incentives not to monitor for unlawful content to avoid accusations they “knowingly” violated the law. Likewise, websites that cooperate with law enforcement and report third-party posts that may involve sex trafficking could be less likely to do so. And, because the bill’s terms are vague, it could apply to many online providers, including Facebook, Craigslist, and Twitter, as well as to other media, such as print publishers.

If enacted, the SAVE Act would undercut the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, another federal statute that immunizes all online providers for claims premised on content provided by third parties. Section 230 has been widely recognized as a boon to the growth of the Internet in the U.S., but it preempts only state law and does not override federal criminal law, an exception the SAVE Act aims to broaden.

The SAVE Act, as passed by the House, has not been introduced in the Senate. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), previously proposed a different bill in the Senate, also called the SAVE Act, http://www.kirk.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1021, although he has not introduced that bill.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Davis Wright Tremaine LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Contact
more
less

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.