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Free Expression

Important Human Trafficking Laws Advance Without Challenging Free Speech Online


Wiser heads prevailed at yesterday’s Judiciary Committee markup, as Senators moved forward with important human trafficking bills absent dangerous proposals to restrict online advertising. We’re glad to see the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act and the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act advance without amendments that would chill online expression.

The Judiciary Committee members are doing important and necessary work by taking on the critical issue of ending human trafficking and providing resources for victims. By not taking up provisions that would create new liability risks for online content hosts, whose services may be used by traffickers, the Committee is showing that progress can be made on human trafficking without damaging a fundamental pillar of the Internet.

Holding websites liable for crimes committed by their users would create massive disincentives for hosting user-generated content. It would likely reduce individuals’ access to diverse platforms to express themselves and it would certainly discourage innovation in online services. CDT echoed experts at Tuesday’s hearing in urging the Committee to tread cautiously around intermediary liability issues.

Unfortunately, these well-intentioned but misguided proposals are likely to crop up again. Last session’s SAVE Act has been reintroduced as a standalone bill, and members at the markup session expressed interest in pursuing online advertising at a later date. The Senate should move forward on reforms that target sex trafficking, but they should strongly reject bills that would undermine the legal protections for broader free speech online.