Don’t Surrender Free Speech in Effort to Regulate Online Political Ads

There has been much speculation about the online advertisements placed by Russian agents in last year’s presidential election. Was this a plot to swing the outcome? Or was it an effort to create chaos and divide our country?

Whatever the reason, there is one thing we can all agree on: foreign meddling in the domestic affairs of the United States cannot be tolerated and must be stopped.

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Washington Post - Internet companies drop opposition to bill targeting online sex trafficking

NetChoice, another Internet trade group that has brought lawsuits against state laws imposing sales tax mandates and privacy restrictions, used former congressman Chris Cox, who co-wrote the Communications Decency Act, to testify in the House last month that there were better ways to address the problem.

Steve DelBianco, president of NetChoice, said Monday that it was “good to see the progress made from collaborative efforts on all sides,” but that the group still favored using existing laws to go after online traffickers, as Cox advocated. “Federal prosecutors are apparently having trouble bringing sex traffickers to justice — even though they’re explicitly unhindered by Section 230″ of the Communications Decency Act, DelBianco said. “We need stronger legal remedies than just amending” the anti-sex-trafficking statute, he added.

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Roll Call - Sex Trafficking Bill Would Narrow Protections for Internet Companies

But the narrowing has drawn opposition from NetChoice, an alliance that includes Facebook and eBay. The bill would would raise questions about why sex trafficking was given special treatment and other online crimes like terrorism were not, said former Rep. Christopher Cox, one of the authors of the 1996 law and now outside counsel for NetChoice.

“There would now be a different rule for one crime,” Cox said.

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Plain Text - Don’t gut Section 230: To fight sex trafficking, prosecutors should use the tools they have

But as former Representative Chris Cox pointed out in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee recently, no federal prosecutions have been brought under the SAVE Act since President Obama signed it into law in 2015.

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JD Supra - Illinois Geolocation Privacy Protection Act Vetoed By Governor Rauner

“By eliminating the disruptions and redundancies that were part of this bill, we will allow one of the state’s fastest growing industries to succeed,” said Carl Szabo, Vice President and General Counsel for NetChoice.

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St Louis Today - Wagner's crusade against online sex trafficking gets push - and pushback - from powerful quarters

Cox, a lawyer who now represents NetChoice, a trade association of e-commerce businesses and online consumers, said that law enforcement authorities already have legal tools to go after the illegal sex and child-trafficking. Section 230, which he co-wrote, “provides no immunity whatsoever to defendants in federal criminal cases,” Cox argued.

Cox said that the best answer is not in new laws but in more vigorous prosecution under current ones. He said that federal prosecutors have not brought a single case under a 2015 law, also authored by Wagner, that criminalized the knowing distribution of advertising of sex acts outlawed under federal sex-trafficking laws.

Cox also warned that singling out sex trafficking in the Communications Decency Act will create “significant new legal ambiguities” when judges try to determine how it affects other online crimes, like murder-for-hire, or terrorism.

Cox said that Senate report, plus subsequent reporting by the Washington Post alleging that contractors have actively sought sex advertising for Backpage, should give prosecutors ample opportunity to go after the controversial site under current law.

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NextGov - Former Lawmaker Says Anti-Sex Trafficking Bill Too Narrow, Could 'Sow Chaos'

“We need to have a solution to this problem that is consistent across more than 4,000 federal crimes and thousands more state crimes,” former Republican California congressman Christopher Cox said Tuesday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. “We don’t have enough time in our lives to fix these crimes one at a time.”

Instead, Cox said the government should do more under existing laws to bring traffickers to justice.

“Section 230 was never intended to provide legal protection to websites that commit any crime,” said Cox, who helped pen the legislation along with then-congressman Ron Wyden in 1996. “If we enforced the statute the way it’s written, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

“Courts would have to give meaning to the fact that Congress singled out sex trafficking and no other offenses,” Cox said. “This would make it harder for them to reach the result we would all presumably want in, say, an internet terrorism case: that is, we would not want Section 230 to be a barrier to prosecution of a website that was complicit in creating web content in violation of laws against terrorism. Singling out one crime in a revised Section 230 could easily distort the results in other criminal cases.”

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Axios - IBM breaks with Google, Facebook to support sex-trafficking bill

Meanwhile: Advocacy group NetChoice, which represents Facebook and Google, is taking a different tack by suggesting that law enforcement simply needs to better enforce existing laws to combat sex trafficking. “The DOJ already has all the power and permission it needs to prosecute trafficking sites and other bad actors like notorious sex trafficking website Backpage,” NetChoice said in a press release.

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DOJ is not wielding its power to bring down online sex trafficking

If there is one thing we can all agree on, it’s that sex trafficking is a horrendous crime, really the worst of the worst. Those who knowingly facilitate sex trafficking — whether it be online or offline — should be prosecuted and put in jail. Robbing the promise and potential of a human life is an egregious offense. One prime example is the notorious Backpage.com website, the leading U.S. website for prostitution advertising.

In August, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) set out to thwart sex trafficking on the internet with the introduction of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). The bill would modify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make it easier to prosecute websites that contribute to sex trafficking.

On first blush this may seem like a good idea, but two issues should make us reconsider this approach..

READ MORE at The Hill

ABC News - After 10 years of iPhone, calls for government to regulate video uploads, livestreaming

“I think that’s a really slippery slope,” said Carl Szabo of NetChoice, which advocates for a free internet.
Szabo says the government could attempt to regulate, but it would not be able to keep up with technological innovation. As soon as a law is passed, he says, that technology could be obsolete.

“You’re beginning to look at issues of free speech and the intrusion on free speech by governmental entities. So it’s very dangerous,” added Szabo.

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