Since 1996, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has shielded websites from prosecution when users post criminal content. In the wake of a human trafficking case involving the notorious website Backpage, a group of lawmakers led by Republican Sen. Rob Portman is proposing new legislation that would weaken Section 230’s protections and hold Web companies responsible when people use their websites to facilitate human trafficking.
In response, the Internet Association, which includes Airbnb, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter, called on the Justice Department to prosecute “rogue operators” like Backpage “to the fullest extent of the law.” However, the group said the new legislation was “overly broad and counterproductive in the fight to combat human trafficking.” It added, “Furthermore, it will impose new, substantial liability risks for companies that take proactive measures to prevent trafficking online, hampering the ability of websites to fight illegal activity. The bill also jeopardizes bedrock principles of a free and open internet, with serious economic and speech implications well beyond its intended scope.”