Tech companies urge last-minute changes to sex trafficking bill

Tech companies urge last-minute changes to sex trafficking bill
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A coalition of internet companies is urging last-minute changes to an online sex trafficking bill that's headed for the Senate floor.

In a letter to Senate leaders this week that was obtained by The Hill, the startup advocacy group Engine and tech companies including Twitter and Yelp expressed their concerns over the legislation that they believe could hurt online platforms.

"We are eager to work with the Senate to improve the bill, particularly to make it feasible for smaller companies to implement," the letter reads.

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The letter was first reported by Axios.

Last month, the House passed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which would make it easier for internet platforms to be held liable for content posted on their platforms. The bill cuts into the broad legal protections that websites enjoy under a law known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields them from liability for content posted by third parties.

Many platforms worry that carving out exceptions to Section 230 will hurt free speech online and burden smaller companies, while doing little to effectively combat online sex trafficking.

"Section 230 has not only enabled companies like ours to launch and grow, it has also made it legally feasible for us to contribute to the fight against criminal activity online," the letter, dated Wednesday, reads. "Any changes to these rules require careful consideration and an assessment of the impact they will have on law enforcement, victims, and our own content moderation and abuse detection activities."

The groups noted that the Department of Justice sent a letter to Congress ahead of the House vote last month over concerns about ambiguities in the bill's language.

"Engine and these companies appreciate all of the work the Senate sponsors have done on this important issue," Evan Engstrom, Engine's executive director, said in a statement. "However, we have weighed in to be constructive and ensure that the bill doesn't create problematic ambiguity that will make it harder for prosecutors and companies to support those underlying goals."

The letter was also signed by companies Reddit, Medium, Pinterest and Cloudflare.

Proponents of the legislation, like Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBipartisan bill would bring needed funds to deteriorating National Park Service infrastructure The Memo: Trump allies hope he can turn the page from Russian fiasco Trump seeks to quell Russia furor MORE (R-Ohio), who's led the charge with a bipartisan companion bill in the Senate, say the law is effectively giving bad actors immunity from prosecution. Kevin Smith, a Portman spokesman, rejected calls for last-minute revisions to the legislation.

“We’re pleased with the bill’s strong bipartisan support from trafficking survivors, law enforcement, faith-based groups and the tech community," Smith said in a statement to The Hill. "The issues raised in this letter were dealt with during the Commerce Committee, and we’re not going to do anything that waters down the bill.”