Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Online Trafficking Bill Poised for Fresh Vote in U.S. House

Updated on
  • Legislation arose after fight against website
  • Changes sought by victims’ advocates expected to be added

A bill to curb online sex trafficking that had previously spooked big internet companies is scheduled for consideration in the House of Representatives next week, its sponsor, Representative Ann Wagner, said Wednesday.

Changes to the bill that some victims’ advocates said they preferred -- such as a narrowing of liability protections for internet companies -- are expected to be added, Wagner, a Missouri Republican, said in a statement.

Several technology organizations had objected to broader provisions in the original legislation, although major players, including Facebook Inc. and the Internet Association trade group, eventually supported revised language in a Senate bill.

As internet giants like Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google face increasing scrutiny in Washington, including over their responsibility for content such as fake news, the language in the legislation follows the Senate’s proposal in eliminating federal liability protections for websites that knowingly facilitate online sex trafficking.

The amendment Wagner expects to be added would be an addition to the current House version, which makes it a crime to operate a facility such as a hotel or an internet platform with the intent to promote prostitution of another person.

Liability Protections

The current House proposal, without the amendment, had soothed a concern of major tech companies but spawned accusations from victims’ advocates that the internet industry had neutered the bill in order guard its protections.

The bills in the House and Senate arose from the fight against the website, which used the liability protections as it defended itself against accusations of providing an advertising platform for teen prostitution.

With the changes, the bill is "the most effective way to empower victims, equip state and local prosecutors, and ensure websites can no longer traffic children with impunity," Wagner said.

Her statement also included expressions of support from some victims groups, although others that had criticized her previous legislation in the starkest terms weren’t included.

"We’re cautiously optimistic," said Lauren Hersh, national director of World Without Exploitation, an advocacy group that hosted a January rally in support of the Senate’s version and has not officially signed on to the new House approach.

"You always have to be cautious until something lands on the floor," Hersh said in a phone interview. "But it certainly looks like we’re moving in the right direction."

A Senate version of the proposal has enough supporters to bypass procedural hurdles and be considered for a full vote.

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