U.S. Supreme Court

Backpage.com must give documents to Senate panel, SCOTUS says

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday denied an appeal from Backpage.com, a classified advertising website, that argued that it had a First Amendment right to not comply with a subpoena issued by a U.S. Senate panel investigating child sex trafficking.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had granted a stay of the subpoena last week after Backpage.com argued it violated the First Amendment rights of its CEO, Carl Ferrer.

The subcommittee is led by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, Cleveland.com reports. Backpage.com asserts that it screens its listings, but critics say the site enables the sex trafficking of minors by running advertisements that suggest a prostitute is underage. Many ads are placed by pimps, the Cleveland.com story says.

Attorneys for Ferrer argued that the panel lacked a “valid legislative purpose,” the Columbus Dispatch reports.

A U.S. district court judge in August ruled that Backpage should comply with the subpoena. The company filed an interlocutory appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We look forward to reviewing the subpoenaed documents that Backpage has unlawfully tried to withhold from Congress. We will continue our bipartisan investigation and our work to ensure that our laws effectively protect the most vulnerable from those who commit and facilitate these reprehensible crimes,” Portman, a Republican from Ohio, said in a statement. The other subcommittee co-chair is Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri.

This was the latest of many court filings involving Backpage, and some technology companies fear that the legal and legislative challenges could harm their own First Amendment protections, the Wall Street Journal reports. An advisory council, which includes representatives from Google, Facebook and Apple, was formed earlier this year.

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