Legislative Update on Section 230 Reform

The legislative process is often referred to as a sausage factory, the implication being, you do not really want to know what goes into it. But the sausage factory has another odd quality. It shuts down for months at a time, and suddenly, out of nowhere, will kick into overdrive. This was one of those overdrive weeks for reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—the provision of Federal law which has been used to deny victims of human trafficking from their day in court.

The route that  a new bill can take to get to one unified piece of legislation is very circuitous and can frequently take a long time, but this week in Washington we took a giant step forward. Up until now, there have been two competing bills: one in the Senate called Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the other in House, called Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act or FOSTA. The original bills took different approaches, but they ultimately ended up at the same place. They both allowed the victims of human trafficking to sue websites that knowingly assisted in the crime.  

The Senate effort has been going extremely well, with a whopping 66 cosponsors on the legislation—more than enough to defeat any tech-company inspired filibuster. Right before Christmas, the House effort ran into some serious difficulty.  The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) had his own ideas about the best approach to combating websites like Backpage.com. He added a provision that would give prosecutors a new tool to criminally go after these websites, but he stripped the bill of the vital provisions to protect the rights of trafficking victims.  

And that is where things stood until this week. It looked as if the Congress might be in an extended standoff with the House of Representatives having one version of the bill, and the Senate having a very different one. But enter Congresswoman Mimi Walters (R-CA) and the compromise brokered by her, Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO), and the Speaker of the House.  In a compromise they laid out this week, and which ECPAT USA endorsed, The House will take up and pass a compromise on Tuesday. The House will consider a bipartisan amendment offered by Congresswoman Walters and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) which would restore a victims right to sue using the same language as the Senate bill. At the same time, it would keep Chairman Goodlatte’s language that strengthens the tools that state and federal prosecutors can use to go after online sex trafficking.

We think this is an excellent development and we are excited to have been one of the organizations that worked with the Members of the House of Representatives to put it together. The vote is scheduled for Tuesday, February 27th. We encourage all ECPAT supporters to call their member of Congress and tell them to support the FOSTA-SESTA compromise.  


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The text of the Walters Amendment:



Text of the FOSTA Bill:



Text of the SESTA Bill: