A bill before Congress would give sex trafficking victims legal grounds to sue online platforms like Google and Facebook.
With the ongoing investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the bill comes at a time of increased scrutiny for tech companies.
Up until a few weeks ago, companies like Google and Facebook had fiercely opposed this legislation. That’s because the current law from 1996 — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — provided the very foundation for these internet companies to thrive.
“Many of those sites exist, in large part, because Congress said they wouldn’t be responsible for what third parties say or do using their tools,” says Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman.
This all came to a head after the classified ads site Backpage.com allowed sex traffickers to post and solicit children on its platform.
A Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs investigation found Backpage knew this was happening and didn’t report it.
In August, legislators introduced a bill that would make web companies liable for criminal activity on their platforms. But some web companies argued this would mean they’d have to police all of the content on their sites.
Now, after weeks of negotiations, the Internet Association — which represents Google and Facebook — announced its support of an amended version of a bipartisan Senate bill.
“They believe that the bill isn’t likely to expose them to a lot of risk,” said Goldman. “And they’re willing to take the remaining risk.”
Changes to the bill include requiring that prosecutors meet federal rather than state standards when seeking to sue websites.
And they’d have to prove a website knew or supported sex trafficking on its platform. The legislation could come up for a vote as early as this week.