On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed, by a vote of 388-25, an amended version of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA, H.R. 1865). Although New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) supports the overall goal of combating human trafficking, OTI and leading free speech advocates strongly oppose this bill. The House adopted the Walters Amendment, by a vote of 308-107, which modifies the already flawed FOSTA base bill by incorporating problematic provisions of the Senate bill, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA, S. 1693), which OTI opposes. The bill that the House just passed would create significant risks for internet intermediaries like social media and online sale or trade platforms, marginalized communities, and trafficking victims themselves. FOSTA would:
Fail to effectively fight human trafficking, instead pushing traffickers to less visible platforms where they will be harder to track and where it will be more difficult to identify and rescue victims;
Undermine crucial protections for internet companies against civil and criminal liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This law is pivotal to providing protection to online platforms from liability for their users’ speech. This could significantly harm start-ups’ ability to compete against major platforms, and it could result in silencing individuals as companies police their users’ speech in order to avoid being held accountable; and
Create a new and expansive federal sex trafficking crime (in addition to 18 U.S.C. § 1591) with vague standards which could be used to hold online platforms liable for their users’ posts. This could discourage platforms from engaging in responsible anti-trafficking efforts, leaving victims more vulnerable to exploitation and less likely to be rescued.
The following statement can be attributed to Robyn Greene, Policy Counsel and Government Affairs Lead, New America’s Open Technology Institute.
“We all must work together to fight the terrible crime of human trafficking. However, the bill the House just passed would move us backwards from achieving that goal. In all likelihood, FOSTA would not save victims of human trafficking and ensure they can seek legal remedies, but it would almost certainly cause irreparable harm to free speech and the internet economy.”
The following statement can be attributed to Spandana Singh, Millennial Public Policy Fellow, New America’s Open Technology Institute:
“Combating sex trafficking is an extremely important issue. However, creating new methods to criminalize online platforms, as this bill would do, will not solve that problem. Instead, it would compromise and silence the voices of online users, including victims; discourage responsible platforms from aiding in anti-sex trafficking efforts; and hamper innovation. Any legislation must ensure robust safeguards for free speech and intermediary liability, and this bill fails on both counts.”