Internet Law

Backpage wins dismissal of suit over escort ads said to facilitate child sex trafficking

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Federal law protects in a suit by three women who allege ads on the website facilitated their sale for sex as children, a Boston federal judge has ruled.

In a decision last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns said the Communications Decency Act protected the website for its publication of third-party content, the Boston Herald reports. How Appealing links to the story and to the opinion (PDF).

“Congress has made the determination that the balance between suppression of trafficking and freedom of expression should be struck in favor of the latter in so far as the Internet is concerned,” Stearns wrote.

The three plaintiffs had contended Backpage’s business model relies in large part from revenues earned from “escort” ads that promote child trafficking. The site doesn’t require posters to identify themselves and accepts anonymous payments through bitcoins and prepaid credit cards, the suit says.

According to Stearns, the plaintiffs “further allege that defendants have waged a phony war against sex traffickers to divert attention from their illegal activities.” Backpage claims its ads are screened by trained moderators, while refusing to install technology that would more accurately detect child trafficking, their suit says.

Stearns said the law protected the website despite the plaintiffs’ “tragic plight” and the “abhorrent evil” of sex trafficking of children. “Putting aside the moral judgment that one might pass on Backpage’s business practices, this court has no choice but to adhere to the law that Congress has seen fit to enact,” Stearns said.

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