By Agence France Presse
Major US tech firms reversed course Friday and endorsed a proposal in Congress which could hold website owners liable for human trafficking.
The Internet Association, which includes giants Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon, said in a statement it supported the measure after reaching a compromise with legislative sponsors.
The association “is committed to combating sexual exploitation and sex trafficking online” president Michael Beckerman said in endorsing the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA).
“Important changes made to SESTA will grant victims the ability to secure the justice they deserve, allow internet platforms to continue their work combating human trafficking, and protect good actors in the ecosystem.”
Tech firms and others had argued earlier this year the measure, aimed at modifying the liability provisions of the Communications Decency Act, could eliminate the free-speech underpinnings of the internet, giving websites immunity from content posted by others.
It remained unclear whether digital rights activists would support the compromise, which some said appeared aimed at websites such as Backpage accused of facilitating sexual exploitation.
The changes, according to lawmakers, would make clear that any criminal charges are based on a violation of the federal human trafficking law and also clarify the definition of participating in a venture “knowingly” for websites that are facilitating sex trafficking.
The Senate Commerce Committee plans a vote November 8, which could send the bill to the full chamber for passage. It would still need passage in the House of Representatives to be sent to the White House.
“This important bill will hold online sex traffickers accountable and help give trafficking survivors the justice they deserve,” said Senator Rob Portman, a sponsor.
“I’m pleased we’ve reached an agreement to further clarify the intent of the bill and advance this important legislation.”