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Free Expression

CDT Opposes Latest Threat to Hosts of Online Content

The House Rules Committee has announced that it will consider the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 on Monday, February 26, allowing the bill to be voted on as early as next week. This bill is an amended version of FOSTA, which passed the House Judiciary Committee in December, and includes provisions from Senate bill S.1693, or SESTA.

The following statement can be attributed to Emma Llansó, Director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology:

The House is poised to vote on a bill that would substantially expand the legal risk involved in hosting individuals’ speech online. By combining some of the most expansive parts of both SESTA and FOSTA, the House bill would create a confusing mashup of overlapping forms of federal and state criminal and civil liability for internet intermediaries.

The practical result of this legal risk for intermediaries will be broad-based censorship. Smaller platforms will also face the real risk that a single lawsuit could put them out of business. This bill jeopardizes not only classified ads sites but also dating apps, discussion forums, social media sites, and any other service that hosts user-generated content.

Ironically, by including SESTA’s expansion of existing federal anti-trafficking law, which links liability to knowledge of specific content, the House bill will actually discourage some platforms from engaging in good-faith moderation efforts.

Sex trafficking is a serious crime and Congress ought to ensure that law enforcement officials have the resources they need to bring traffickers to justice. But that requires thoughtful, open deliberation over the merits and shortcomings of different approaches, not rushed backroom deals that merge two distinct bills with no discussion of the consequences.

The House should reject this hybrid bill.