Week ahead in tech: Debate over online sex trafficking bill heats up

Week ahead in tech: Debate over online sex trafficking bill heats up
© Greg Nash

The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday will debte an anti-online sex trafficking bill that has sparked opposition from internet companies who worry it would hold them liable for content published by their users.

The panel will hold a hearing on Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump seeks to quell Russia furor GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh Sens introduce bipartisan bill matching Zinke proposed maintenance backlog fix MORE's (R-Ohio) Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which has been endorsed by a bipartisan group of 27 cosponsors.

The bill would alter Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make it illegal for sites to knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. Section 230 protects online publishers against legal liability for content posted by their users.

Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google oppose the bill. The companies fear they could be held criminally liable for other third-party content and argue it would do little in the fight against sex trafficking.


Among the witnesses who will be testifying on Thursday are California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraJudge dismisses most of Trump administration lawsuit over California immigration laws Overnight Health Care: Trump officials want more time to reunite families | Washington braces for Supreme Court pick | Nebraska could be next state to vote on Medicaid expansion Judge rejects Trump administration's request to block California sanctuary laws MORE (D) and the Internet Association's general counsel, Abigail Slater. The Internet Association is a trade group representing Silicon Valley's biggest companies, including Facebook and Google.

Portman has been adamant that the bill was narrowly crafted to ensure that legitimate internet platforms are legally protected.

"The status quo regarding the online sex trafficking of women and children is untenable here, and it's sad to see these folks standing up for the status quo," Portman spokesman Kevin Smith said when the bill was introduced. "This is a narrowly-crafted, two-page bill, and we're building more bipartisan support for this small, but important change by the day."

The bill was put forward after a two-year investigation into the adult classifieds site Backpage.com, which the Portman-led Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations determined had knowingly enabled sex-trafficking.

The bill, though, has the backing of Oracle and 21st Century Fox.

It will be a short week for Congress with the House out and senators leaving on Wednesday.

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday examining business tax reform, a key issue for internet and telecom companies.

On Monday at 1:30 p.m., Margrethe Vestager, the EU's competition chief will be giving a talk at the American Enterprise Institute on European antitrust enforcement.

The EU leveled a record fine against Google in June over antitrust issues with its competitive shopping service. Google is challenging the $2.9 billion fine.

There will also be scrutiny on Equifax in the coming week, as lawmakers press the credit reporting company on its massive data breach that could have compromised the information of as many as 143 million Americans. Lawmakers are demanding answers on a number of questions, including the scope of the breach and why some executives reportedly sold stock in the company after learning about the hack and before the public was notified.

The company's CEO has already agreed to testify in October before the House. The Federal Trade Commission has also launched its own probe into Equifax.

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