Senate Passes FOSTA

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Congress has passed the the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) of 2017, which now awaits the president's signature.

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On March 21, the Senate passed H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, with a vote of 97-2 (a previous blog post on the legislation can be found here). The bill, also known as FOSTA, would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to hold online companies liable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking on their platforms. The bill passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 388-25 on February 27.

Critics of the bill have argued that the legislation could hurt smaller websites by exposing them to greater liability risks and compliance costs and make it more difficult to find bad actors by driving website operators to further limit their awareness of what users may post to their sites. Several advocacy groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign, have criticized the legislation, claiming it will deter sites from monitoring for trafficking and have a "chilling effect" on sites that provide health and safety information. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a major opponent of the legislation, offered several amendments to the bill that would provide funding for prosecuting traffickers and provide additional legal cover for sites that are pursuing traffickers on their platforms. Both of his amendments failed on the Senate floor.

The Senate had its own counterpart legislation, S. 1693, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017. The legislation, which had 70 bipartisan cosponsors, was dropped in order to pursue the House's version of the bill. FOSTA now awaits the president's signature.

The legislation, if signed into law, will impact user-generated content. Within hours of the Senate's vote, numerous websites, including Craigslist and Reddit, began removing certain webpages and content from their platforms.

Jennifer Ortega is an associate with Ulman Public Policy and consultant for EDUCAUSE.

© 2018 Jennifer Ortega. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.