Wyden Puts Hold on Sex Trafficking Bill

Says he is deeply troubled with potential impact on start-ups

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has placed a hold on the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which was favorably reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday (Nov. 8) after a bipartisan amendment appeared to pave the way to full-Senate consideration.

"Today I am announcing my public hold and a public warning about SESTA," said Wyden late Wednesday. He said having written laws to combat sex trafficking, he took a back seat to nobody on the urgency of combating it. But, he said, he continued to be "deeply troubled" by the bill, even after amended. He says he fears it will make it harder to catch dangerous criminals, that it favors big tech companies at the expense of smaller start-ups and stifle innovation.

Wyden, who co-authored the Communications Decency Act section (230) that the bill would amend, said at a Hill hearing on the bill in September that it already gave the authority to go after bad actors, and raised the issue of the new bill hurting the internet economy and innovators.

He said Wednesday that just because a big tech company says something is good--the Internet Association, whose members include Google, Twitter, Amazon, and Facebook, backed the amended bill--does not make it good for the internet or for innovation.

The bipartisan bill would update the Communications Decency Act to clarify that Section 230, which says internet services cannot be held liable for the actions of third parties, does not prevent enforcement against providers and users of federal and state laws against sex trafficking.

He said he appreciated the amendment, and its narrowing of the bill's scope, but that did not prevent him from putting a public hold on it.

Any senator can put a hold on a bill by signaling to the majority leader that he does not want a bill to get floor consideration. The leader does not have to comply, but is on notice that the senator may filibuster any effort to bring it to a vote.