U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a legislative hearing titled “S.1693, The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017” (authored by Senator Rob Portman and Senator Richard Blumenthal). The hearing will be at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 19, 2017–but Google and Facebook won’t be there.
Why? According to the committee website:
S. 1693, sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and 27 additional cosponsors, proposes amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to create new legal liability for internet companies whose sites knowingly facilitate sex trafficking and other crimes through content hosted on their platforms. While it does not affect federal criminal liability, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was written to protect internet platforms from civil and state criminal liability for content created by others, including liability arising from the actions of others who post unlawful content or use the platform for unlawful behavior.
As MTP readers will recall, Google has a long history of supporting human trafficking sites like Backpage.com through Google surrogates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Internet Association. Sending surrogates works best when the people you are trying to deceive don’t figure out that you’re doing it. Senator Portman isn’t fooled by shillery. As reported in Politico:
Kevin Smith, communications director for Sen. Rob Portman , told MT that was less than ideal. “Senator Portman has made clear that companies that oppose this bipartisan bill should defend their position publicly and testify,” Smith said. “It’s disappointing that they chose to send up a trade association instead.”
Professor Goldman, a reliable defender of Section 230, is also testifying. Professor Goldman teaches at Santa Clara University–which received $500,000 from the controversial Google Buzz class action settlement. I doubt that this payment had any direct affect on Professor Goldman’s views, however. To his credit, he does not appear in the current version of the Google Academics, Inc. database, the definitive resource for Google-funded academics.
The incomparable Nicholas Kristof recently wrote an op-ed about Google’s sex trafficking problem in the New York Times:
Sex traffickers in America have the police and prosecutors pursuing them, but they do have one crucial (if secret) ally: Google.
Google’s motto has long been “Don’t be evil,” and I admire lots about the company. But organizations it funds have for years been quietly helping Backpage.com, the odious website where most American victims of human trafficking are sold, to battle lawsuits from children sold there for sex.
Now Google is using its enormous lobbying power in Washington to try to kill bipartisan legislation that would crack down on websites that promote sex trafficking.
It will be interesting to see if either the Internet Association or Professor Goldman tries to take the line adopted by Google lawyer Kent Walker (at the Google annual shareholder meeting) and try to get the Congress to believe that the Congress “was striking a blow for Good Samaritan review by Internet platforms” with CDA 230. In other words, the Congress wanted to help Good Samaritans that are “quietly helping Backpage.com….to battle lawsuits from children sold there for sex.”
We shall see. Live video will be on the Commerce Committee website. You can call your Senator to express your views on the legislation at (202) 224-3121.