Senate eyes bill on online sex trafficking; critics say it goes too far

Cindy McCain

By Andrew Nicla | Cronkite News

When prosecutors tried to bring criminal charges against backpage.com in connection with alleged sex trafficking, a California judge dismissed the case last month saying the website enjoyed immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

For Cindy McCain and other advocates at a sometimes-emotional Senate hearing Tuesday, that is just more evidence that the law needs to be changed to fix a problem that they say allows online child sex trafficking.

“We saw the result of what happens to victim’s families as a result of Backpage and the inadequacy of present law, and it was presented … in a way that makes perfect sense and it should be changed,” McCain said after the Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Section 230 “is old for its time … the internet has changed since. I look forward to seeing this issue continue in terms of strengthening other laws, more importantly protecting our victims of human trafficking,” she said.

But others at the hearing said the problem of online trafficking is too big to be solved by rephrasing one section of the law. And they worried that the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act could actually backfire on anti-trafficking efforts, while infringing on free speech rights.

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