In a positive step in the fight to amend section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), the Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously to approve the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 (SESTA) on Nov. 8. That afternoon, once the bill headed to the Senate floor for a vote, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., motioned to put a hold on SESTA, which is preventing the bill from being considered by the entire Senate.
When the proposed legislation was before the Senate Commerce Committee for review, the Internet Association, whose membership includes Google and Facebook, released a statement Nov. 3 changing its stance on amending the CDA 230. Under the leadership of the bill’s sponsors, Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. negotiated a compromise, resulting in two changes to the bill. The bill now fully clarifies that SESTA will only apply to companies that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking and not those working to identify and stop it. Additionally, the new draft gives state attorneys general the ability to prosecute these suspected companies using federal law in state courts. These changes also led Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Dianne Feinstein, D-N.Y., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Carmen Cortez Masto, D-Nev., to sign onto the bipartisan bill. Nearly half of the Senate is now cosponsoring SESTA.
In its announcement, the Internet Association stated that it is “committed to combating sexual exploitation and sex trafficking online and supports SESTA. Important changes made to SESTA will grant victims the ability to secure the justice they deserve, allow internet platforms to continue their work combating human trafficking, and protect good actors in the ecosystem.”
The tech trade organization began signaling a willingness to negotiate during an emotional September hearing. The Senate Commerce Committee seemed particularly moved when Yvonne Ambrose spoke about her daughter Desiree who was sex trafficked on Backpage and murdered last Christmas Eve.
The Internet Association’s decision along with the bill’s growing number of bipartisan cosponsors likely helped SESTA gain approval of all the members of the Commerce Committee. However, the hold placed by Sen. Wyden is an enormous roadblock. Survivor leaders, among other advocates, are urging the senator to reverse his decision, but SESTA still needs wide-ranging constituent support. Call, e-mail and tweet your Senators to tell them why passing SESTA is vital in the fight for a sex trafficking free internet.
While SESTA is stalled in the Senate, a hearing has been scheduled in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology for the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA). With 170 co-sponsors, FOSTA aims at reforming CDA 230 and holding accountable websites that, with reckless disregard, allow the publishing of content promoting sex trafficking. FOSTA needs our support as well to ensure the bill is brought to a vote on the House floor. Contact the subcommittee members to tell them why CDA 230 must be reformed urgently.
January 2018 Update: Changes were made to FOSTA in December 2017. CATW does not support these changes and no longer endorses the bill. We continue to advocate for the passage of SESTA as a vital amendment to CDA 230.