Web companies are fighting back against a proposed federal bill which would hold online sites legally responsible for the trafficking of minors over the Internet.
The pleas of Silicon Valley found little sympathy in Washington, with rebuttals being offered both by legislators as well as the mother of a young girl who was slain by traffickers after being sold for sex on Backpage.com.
“It could be your child,” said Yvonne Ambrose.
Ambrose’s 16-year old daughter was discovered beaten and stabbed to death in a suburb of Chicago after being reported missing. The girl was being advertised for prostitution on Backpage, prompting her mother to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the website.
Backpage, Ambrose said, “must be held accountable” for the illegal activities which are often advertised on its personals and escorts pages.
The bill, according to Bloomberg Politics, would hold companies like Backpage responsible and open to prosecution if human trafficking is reported on its domain.
Despite the criticism and accusations being levied at it by Ambrose, attorneys for Backpage declined to comment at the opening hearings. Since the company didn’t create the post which advertised Ambrose’s daughter, representatives for Backpage said, it shouldn’t be held responsible for any wrongdoing.
The efforts at reform are being resisted not only by Backpage, but by Silicon Valley behemoths like Google and Facebook, too.
All of the companies say that holding businesses responsible for how individual members use their services would create unprecedented liability.
“Silicon Valley holds itself as being more than just another industry – but rather a movement to make the world a better place,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). “Selling children for sex over the Internet can’t be the cost of doing business, and it doesn’t make the world a better place.”
Abigail Slater, the general counsel of the Internet Association, said in a hearing testimony that the proposed bill would create liability for any website “that can be said to benefit from its role in facilitating a sex trafficking violation, even if it has no knowledge that it is doing so.
“Backpage.com broke existing law and we agree that it must be fully and quickly brought to justice,” she said.
As of Tuesday, Bloomberg had reported that 29 senators had signed onto the effort.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra urged lawmakers to pass the effort.
“We need the tools to go after these folks,” Becerra said. “We’re fighting with two hands tied behind our back.”
Backpage.com has been repeatedly criticized for its rather blatant promotion of prostitution, both in the United States and overseas.