A bipartisan coalition of state and territorial attorneys general are urging Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act to clarify that they retain authority to investigate and prosecute those accused of facilitating online child sex trafficking. The goal is to ensure all law enforcement agencies can continue to fight online sex trafficking.
The attorneys general ask representatives task for a “simple word addition to the CDA” to ensure that citizens and children are effectively protected throughout the entire country, in all courts. Some federal courts have interpreted the CDA to render state and local authorities unable to take action against companies that actively profit from the promotion and facilitation of sex trafficking and crimes against children.
“By and large, the CDA is good law. However, the CDA already includes carved out exceptions. For example, if a third party intermediary website that in any way facilitates copyright infringement can be used by the injured party under the Copyright Act. Congress can expressly carve out any other exception to the CDA to include injuries related to human trafficking and pornography if it wants to, since both are unprotect harmful speech. Congress has the authority to do that now and it should. Backpage.com is a criminal enterprise that has been protected by a law while they (BACKPAGE) are doing irreparable harm,” stated Kathleen Winn, executive director of PROJECT 25/AZMEN.
The letter to Congress states:
“Federal enforcement alone has proved insufficient to stem the growth in online promotion of child sex trafficking. Those on the front lines of the battle against the sexual exploitation of children – state and local law enforcement – must have clear authority to investigate and prosecute facilitators of these and other horrible crimes.”
The intention of the CDA is to protect children from indecent material online. It was never intended to place facilitators of child sex trafficking outside the reach of law enforcement. However, according to the Attorneys General, the CDA is being used as a shield by those who profit from prostitution and crimes against children. In some cases, courts have interpreted certain provisions of the CDA to provide immunity from state prosecution to online classified ad sites, such as Backpage.com, that promote and profit from human trafficking.
“It is both ironic and tragic that the CDA, which was intended to protect children from indecent material on the internet, is now used as a shield by those who profit from prostitution and crimes against children,” the attorneys general wrote.
The following states and territories signed on to the letter: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.