CCIA Warns About New Online Liability Law

Cites unintended consequences to approach to stopping sex trafficking
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Computer companies are worried that a new bill meant to crack down on human trafficking could instead take a big bite out of the user-generated web traffic that makes up the majority of interactions on the web, from blogs to social media posts to picture-sharing.

The bill, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, is sponsored by a bipartisan Who's Who of senators, including ranking Energy & Commerce Committee Democrat Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Republican Marco Rubio, also of Florida.

The bill, say its sponsors, is meant to ensure that web sites such as Backpage.com, which knowingly facilitate sex trafficking according to a Senate investigation helmed by Portman Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), can be held liable.

It would do so by amending Sec. 230 of the Communications Decency Act to clarify that that section, 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.

Sec. 230 allows companies to moderate a network without being responsible for all the content posted on it, which, CCIA points out, prevents every post from being a potential lawsuit and has allowed for "literally every online platform that allows users to post information, content, and comments"—which covers everyone from Google and Facebook to Snapchat and Pinterest.

CCIA has released a video to make its point of the importance of Sec. 230.

The backers say the bill is narrowly crafted to:

"Allow victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that knowingly facilitated the crimes against them;

"Eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws; and

"Enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to take action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws."

But the Computer & Communications Industry Association wants to warn of the unintended consequences of a bill with good intentions.

That comes as Congress gets back to work after the August recess and a bill whose avowed aim is to stop sex traffickers could pick up co-sponsors. CCIA's goal is to explain those unintended consequences.

CCIA members include Facebook, Google, Pinterest, and Amazon.

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