Side Note

Can anyone stop the new Internet censorship laws?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing to invalidate the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (or FOSTA for short) on the grounds that the internet censorship law is unconstitutional. FOSTA was passed earlier this year much to the dismay of practically all internet advocacy organizations and sex workers.

Despite what its name may imply, FOSTA doesn’t actually do much to help help states and victims fight online sex trafficking, and instead instead serves to cripple the very foundation of the free and open web by unfairly holding online platforms criminally and civilly liable for the actions of their users. It also hurts consensual sex workers by effectively banishing them from the internet and makes victims of sex trafficking more difficult to spot by pushing the entire industry essentially underground.

FOSTA’s passage criminalized the operation of a digital platform on which sex trafficking takes place, meaning that the feds can now come after, say, Reddit, if a user happens to use a subreddit to facilitate the prostitution of another individual, even if Reddit itself had no hand in the matter. It’s able to do this because the law itself weakens a key part of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which, in short, allows sites and apps to exist without fear of being held responsible for the actions of their dumb (and probably awful) users.

Though this extended definition of criminal liability created by FOSTA is supposed to apply solely in cases relating to sex trafficking, the wording of the law is so vague that it opens up the possibility for the censorship on a massive scale. The EFF is suing to have its unconstitutionality recognized in a court of law on behalf of a fleet of concerned parties, ranging from the Internet Archive, to the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and beyond.

“In our lawsuit, two human rights organizations, an individual advocate for sex workers, a certified non-sexual massage therapist, and the Internet Archive, are challenging the law as an unconstitutional violation of the First and Fifth Amendments,” wrote David Greene in a statement on behalf of the EFF. “Although the law was passed by Congress for the worthy purpose of fighting sex trafficking, its broad language makes criminals of those who advocate for and provide resources to adult, consensual sex workers and actually hinders efforts to prosecute sex traffickers and aid victims.”