Week ahead: House to vote on controversial online sex trafficking bill

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The House is expected to vote in the coming week on legislation aimed at cracking down on sex trafficking online.

The bill is sparking concern from the tech industry, which worries that a proposed change could make web companies liable for all content users post on their platforms.

House leaders want to beef up the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) with a measure that would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

Currently, that law prevents tech companies from being liable for content that users post on their platforms. Tech companies have long hailed the provision, saying it has prevented unnecessary lawsuits that could have hurt their growth.

But the version the House Rules Committee is slated to take up Monday would clarify the language of Section 230 to make it easier for victims of sex trafficking and others to sue websites that “knowingly” promoted illegal activity.

Tech groups backed FOSTA in place of rival legislation in the Senate that would have done more to undercut liability protections in Section 230. The Senate bill, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), faces strong opposition from many tech groups. 

Internet companies are now worried the House is voting on legislation closer in line with the Senate bill.

The Internet Association, a group which represents firms including Amazon, Facebook and Google and bills itself as the “voice of the internet,” currently supports both bills but says it is reviewing the potential changes.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a tech and privacy advocacy group, bashed the “knowingly” provision on Thursday.

“The House Rules Committee is about to approve a new version of FOSTA that incorporates most of the dangerous components of SESTA,” the group said in a post on its website. “This new Frankenstein’s Monster of a bill would be a disaster for Internet intermediaries, marginalized communities, and even trafficking victims themselves.”

EFF says it has issues with any attempts to amend Section 230.

Other groups which supported FOSTA have also expressed concern over the changes.

TechFreedom, Engine, FreedomWorks, Citizens Outreach, R Street Institute and Committee for Justice sent a joint letter to Senate leaders on Friday, supporting the House version of sex-trafficking legislation, FOSTA, but rejecting the provisions in the Senate bill.

“The Senate legislation would harm, not help, sex trafficking victims, whereas the House bill would not raise the same significant concerns. Thus, the two bills cannot simply be merged,” they wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others in both chambers.

The letter also said lawmakers are moving too quickly to a vote and called for more time to debate the changes.

Lawmakers across party lines have said they want to do more to crack down on sex trafficking on the internet. 
Tech companies say they hear those concerns and are taking steps on their own to address the problem.

The debate, though, has also divided the industry. Web companies have fought the efforts to alter Section 230, while other companies that don’t have internet platforms — such as IBM and Oracle — broadly support legislation to stop online sex trafficking.

Outside of the likely House vote, it will be a busy week for lawmakers with both the House and the Senate returning after the Presidents Day recess.

On Tuesday, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee subcommittee on research will hold a hearing on sexual harassment in science at 10 a.m.

The Federal Trade Commission will hold its third PrivacyCon on Wednesday starting at 9:15 a.m. The daylong event will feature panel discussions with cybersecurity experts, consumer advocates and agency officials.


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Tags Internet Association Mitch McConnell Net neutrality sex trafficking Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act Week ahead

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