Tomorrow, our Executive Director Evan Engstrom will testify in front of a House subcommittee about the importance of a foundational Internet law and efforts to fight sex trafficking online.
Online sex trafficking is a horrendous tragedy that should be fought from every side. The bad actors that assist in this heinous and illegal activity should be punished, and sex trafficking victims and survivors should see the justice they deserve.
And we’re hardly alone in thinking that. Tech companies large and small have frequently partnered with law enforcement, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and anti-trafficking groups to develop a range of technologies that help combat trafficking and support victims. Industry has worked to come up with best practices to finding trafficking content and directing personnel to promptly investigate and disable access to such content. We intend to continue this important work.
However, it is not possible for a platform that hosts a significant amount of user generated content to fully remediate all illegal content on its site or know with certainty whether it is being used for trafficking activity. Proposals to address online trafficking should consider these realities and not impose ruinous burdens on well-intentioned startups.
Because of Section 230, Internet companies don’t have to worry about following a patchwork of state-by-state laws governing what happens online, and companies aren’t open to civil lawsuits because of something a user said or did on their platform. It’s important to note, however, that Section 230 does not protect any Internet platform that violates federal laws. The Department of Justice has total authority to go after bad actors like Backpage.com.
Section 230 is also fundamental to many Internet platforms’ efforts to combat online sex trafficking. Under Section 230, a company can monitor for sex trafficking content and report it to law enforcement without fear of being held legally responsible for any sex trafficking content they miss despite their best efforts. Some of the anti-sex trafficking proposals being discussed would change that, actually making it riskier and more costly to do the right thing and police sex trafficking on their platforms.
There’s always more to be done, and we commend lawmakers for their focus in this space. However, we have concerns about any legislation that would undermine Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.