FOSTA will let law enforcement prosecute websites for facilitating sex trafficking crimes, but critics worry the new law will trigger internet platforms to censor user content.
President Trump has signed a controversial bill that’s intended to help stop online sex trafficking but has privacy advocates concerned that it will instead trigger internet censorship and put sex workers at risk.
The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) opens the door for criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits against websites that facilitate sex trafficking and prostitution.
Prior to FOSTA, also known as SESTA, internet platforms were granted some legal immunity for content posted by third parties, but no more. Even before Wednesday’s signing, sites that hosted user-generated classified posts removed them for fear of being prosecuted for their content. Craigslist, for example, removed all personal ads from the site last month, while Reddit banned paid transactions “involving physical sexual contact.”
“Trafficking is probably worse today than at any time in our history,” President Trump said in today’s signing, according to CNN. Lawmakers also hailed the new law.
#FOSTA is now law. Thank you to all the survivors, advocates, law enforcement officials, and colleagues who helped us bring justice to survivors and give new tools to law enforcement to crack down on sex trafficking across America.
— Ann Wagner (@RepAnnWagner) April 11, 2018
FOSTA passed Congress with bipartisan support. However, free speech advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claim its scope is too broad.
“Large companies like Google and Facebook may have the budgets to survive the massive increase in litigation and liability that FOSTA would bring,” the EFF wrote. “Small startups don’t.”
To comply with new law, existing internet platforms may resort to filtering content that mentions anything sexual, critics say. “Creating more legal tools to go after online platforms would not punish sex traffickers. It would punish all of us, wrecking the safe online communities that we use every day,” the EFF added.
FOSTA will also strip online tools from sex workers. Critics like the ACLU say the new law will force them on to the streets, putting them in greater danger of violence.