Senate passes sex trafficking bill in defeat for weakened tech industry

- Maret 21, 2018

The Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to combat online sex trafficking that faced opposition from major parts of the tech industry, marking a rare policy defeat for an increasingly embattled Silicon Valley in Washington.

The bill passed by a vote of 97-2. It now goes to President Donald Trump, who's expected to sign the measure. The House passed the bill in February.

The legislation would hold websites liable for "knowingly" enabling sex trafficking. It's targeted at sites like Backpage.com, the subject of a long-running Senate investigation, which was accused of hosting ads that promoted the trafficking of minors — but its passage comes as divisions within the tech industry and rising frustration with companies like Facebook have weakened the sector’s power in the Capitol.

The effort has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress, but it was the subject of fierce lobbying by the tech industry. Tech groups warned the bill creates a dangerous precedent by amending a legal provision — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — that has long shielded websites like Google and Twitter from lawsuits over content posted by users.


Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an author of the original 230 provision and leading internet advocate, proposed two amendments to change the language of the bill, one of which was voted down and the other withdrawn. Survivors' groups said those changes would have essentially gutted the bill.

For an industry that for years enjoyed a free ride in Washington, the trafficking legislation marks a stinging defeat — and the first tangible sign of Washington's changing attitude toward Silicon Valley. Facebook, Twitter and Google have faced intense scrutiny in recent months over everything from their role in Russian election meddling to the spread of online conspiracy theories to so-called tech addiction.

As the anti-trafficking bill gained momentum this year, the tech industry splintered, with players like Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg expressing robust support for congressional action and groups like Engine and NetChoice scrambling to halt or water down the legislation.


 

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