The campaign to crack down on Backpage.com as a conduit for trafficking underage sex workers cranked up again on Thursday, promising to become the free-speech battle of our time, some experts say.
Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake joined 18 lawmakers to unveil the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which takes direct aim at the controversial website.
The bill, they said, was the natural offshoot of a two-year Senate investigation of Backpage, which was highlighted by hearings involving founders (and former New Times owners) Michael Lacey and James Larkin and culminated in a scathing report.
The proposed legislation, introduced Tuesday, would amend the key Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, to allow prosecutors to go after publishers of sex-trafficking ads.
Senate investigators accuse Lacey and Larkin of knowingly accepting money for ads selling underage girls for sex, and making hundreds of millions of dollars on the unseemly trade.
Lacey and Larkin have argued the First Amendment insulates them from prosecution because they only published the ads, they didn’t create them or sell the illicit service.
An attorney representing Backpage declined comment, saying he was not authorized to discuss the bill.
Lacey and Larkin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union, in anticipation of the bill, wrote that it was “understandably concerned” by a bill “that would result in severe unintended consequences for free speech online.”
“Why should we care? After all, this stuff is unsavory, and trafficking is about as evil as it gets,” the ACLU wrote. “The short answer is because the bill would…
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