Online sex-trafficking bill prompts Craigslist to hire its first lobbyists

Online sex-trafficking bill prompts Craigslist to hire its first lobbyists
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The classified ads site Craigslist has hired its first federal lobbyists to tackle online sex trafficking bills making their way through Congress.

Recently filed disclosure forms show that Craigslist has tapped five lobbyists from the law firm Sidley Austin LLP, including former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.).

The hires are a first for the site, and, according to the filings, were prompted by a pair of sex trafficking bills that has galvanized opposition from web companies who worry that they threaten the legal framework underlying their business models.

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A Senate bill called the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act has been approved by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and is awaiting floor consideration.

The bill would make it easier for prosecutors and victims to go after online sex trafficking operations by creating a carveout in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that gives broad legal protections for web platforms from content posted by their users.

Internet companies worry that cutting into their legal immunity when it comes to third-party content would have disastrous effects on their business models and online speech.

The legislation also appeared to prompt the popular forum site Reddit to hire its first federal lobbyists.

But last month, the bill won the support of the Internet Association — a trade group representing tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon — after the bill’s sponsors agreed to technical changes to the language.

Still, smaller tech startups remain fiercely opposed to the bill, arguing that it would impose onerous burdens on web companies with limited resources while doing little to actually combat the spread of online sex trafficking.