Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Senate introduces anti-trafficking bill that compromises Section 230; House had done so in April


The Senate has introduced a Bill to reduce the use of Section 230 with respect to sex trafficking.  The bill is the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017”, with text here  (or here).

The Verge has a good analysis of the bill, with links to blog postings by law professor Eric Goldman from UC Santa Clara, that ask plenty of questions about “unintended consequences”.  The Senate bill is not as “bad” as the House bill in April, which did not get as much attention as it should have.  It does not appear that I made a posting about that bill here in April but I did so on Wordpress here

This sounds like a bill that would been drafted even if Hillary Clinton had won the election.
   
I won’t attempt this morning to analyze all the dire possibilities that Goldman does.  I do intend to take up these bills in more detail soon on Wordpress. 


But two questions come to mind right away.

One of these is, how does a service provider (like Blogger, Automattic, any hosting company, or any social media platform like Facebook or Twitter) know ahead of time that a posting promotes sex trafficking?  That’s a question of procedural logic.  It is true that reputable companies, like all of these, remove illegal content when users point it out to them.  Google has become proficient in automatic detection on some content (copyright issues, watermarked child pornography, spam blogs) with automated filters, but we all know they can be fuzzy and lead to false positives.  There has been legal controversy (comparable to child porn) over terrorism promotion, also, and some people have tried to hold social media companies "responsible". 
   
Congress may imagine that this law corresponds to the practice already with child pornography, and perhaps the analogy has some validity.  (Many of sex trafficking victims are underage, so child porn laws might be used now.)  It may imagine also that Backpage (which says it stopped sex ads in January as I recall) is a different kind of site than Blogger, Facebook, or Wordpress.  But the existential problems are the same:  a service company does not know in advance what a post can contain.

A second question: It would be useful to know how this plays out in Europe, where downstream liability protection is much less.

We saw some of these concerns with the litigation against COPA, Child Online Protection Act, to which I was a party.

In the video above, Senator Bob Portman claims that only companies that “knowingly” facilitate sex trafficking would be exposed.  Supporters also link sex trafficking to the opioid crisis. 

I agree that there I a real danger of COPA-like state laws piggybacking onto this bill.

Tom Jackman has a similar story on p. A2 of the Washington Post Aug. 2, "Senate bill spurred by Backpage.com", but the online title is a bit misleading and over the top, "Senate launches bill to remove immunity for websites hosting illegal content, spurred by Backpage.com".  

An individual blogger (if hosting companies can allow him to stay up given the existential logical risk) could conceivably be liable for approving a comment that promotes sex trafficking, it would appear.  Not sure if comments aren't monitored. 
  
I’ll have a lot more material on this one on Wordpress fairly soon.


Update: Aug, 3

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a brief writeup and petition here. If you write Congress about this matter, it's best to make the letter as personalized as possible. 


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