FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law

 Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers



A dark day for the Internet...

US congress passes a supposed anti sex trafficking bill and immediately adult consensual sex workers are censored off the internet


Link Here 23rd March 2018
Full story: FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law...Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers

It was a dark day for the Internet.

The U.S. Senate just voted 97-2 to pass the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA, H.R. 1865), a bill that silences online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. As lobbyists and members of Congress applaud themselves for enacting a law tackling the problem of trafficking, let's be clear: Congress just made trafficking victims less safe, not more.

The version of FOSTA that just passed the Senate combined an earlier version of FOSTA (what we call FOSTA 2.0) with the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA, S. 1693). The history of SESTA/FOSTA -- a bad bill that turned into a worse bill and then was rushed through votes in both houses of Congress2 -- is a story about Congress' failure to see that its good intentions can result in bad law. It's a story of Congress' failure to listen to the constituents who'd be most affected by the laws it passed. It's also the story of some players in the tech sector choosing to settle for compromises and half-wins that will put ordinary people in danger. Silencing Internet Users Doesn't Make Us Safer

SESTA/FOSTA undermines Section 230, the most important law protecting free speech online. Section 230 protects online platforms from liability for some types of speech by their users. Without Section 230, the Internet would look very different. It's likely that many of today's online platforms would never have formed or received the investment they needed to grow and scale204the risk of litigation would have simply been too high. Similarly, in absence of Section 230 protections, noncommercial platforms like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive likely wouldn't have been founded given the high level of legal risk involved with hosting third-party content.

The bill is worded so broadly that it could even be used against platform owners that don't know that their sites are being used for trafficking.

Importantly, Section 230 does not shield platforms from liability under federal criminal law. Section 230 also doesn't shield platforms across-the-board from liability under civil law: courts have allowed civil claims against online platforms when a platform directly contributed to unlawful speech. Section 230 strikes a careful balance between enabling the pursuit of justice and promoting free speech and innovation online: platforms can be held responsible for their own actions, and can still host user-generated content without fear of broad legal liability.

SESTA/FOSTA upends that balance, opening platforms to new criminal and civil liability at the state and federal levels for their users' sex trafficking activities. The platform liability created by new Section 230 carve outs applies retroactively -- meaning the increased liability applies to trafficking that took place before the law passed. The Department of Justice has raised concerns about this violating the Constitution's Ex Post Facto Clause, at least for the criminal provisions.

The bill also expands existing federal criminal law to target online platforms where sex trafficking content appears. The bill is worded so broadly that it could even be used against platform owners that don't know that their sites are being used for trafficking.

Finally, SESTA/FOSTA expands federal prostitution law to cover those who use the Internet to promote or facilitate prostitution.  The Internet will become a less inclusive place, something that hurts all of us.

And if you had glossed over a little at the legal details, perhaps a few examples of the immediate censorship impact of the new law

Immediate Chilling Effect on Adult Content


See  article from xbiz.com

SESTA's passage by the U.S. Senate has had an immediate chilling effect on those working in the adult industry.

Today, stories of a fallout are being heard, with adult performers finding their content being flagged and blocked, an escort site that has suddenly becoming not available, Craigslist shutting down its personals sections and Reddit closing down some of its communities, among other tales.

SESTA, which doesn't differentiate between sex trafficking and consensual sex work, targets scores of adult sites that consensual sex workers use to advertise their work.

And now, before SESTA reaches President Trump's desk for his guaranteed signature, those sites are scrambling to prevent themselves from being charged under sex trafficking laws.

It's not surprising that we're seeing an immediate chilling effect on protected speech, industry attorney Lawrence Walters told XBIZ. This was predicted as the likely impact of the bill, as online intermediaries over-censor content in the attempt to mitigate their own risks. The damage to the First Amendment appears palpable.

  • Today, longtime city-by-city escort service website, CityVibe.com, completely disappeared, only to be replaced with a message, Sorry, this website is not available.

  • Tonight, mainstream classified site Craigslist, which serves more than 20 billion page views per month, said that it has dropped personals listings in the U.S.

  • Motherboard reported today that at least six porn performers have complained that files have been blocked without warning from Google's cloud storage service. It seems like all of our videos in Google Drive are getting flagged by some sort of automated system, adult star Lilly Stone told Motherboard. We're not even really getting notified of it, the only way we really found out was one of our customers told us he couldn't view or download the video we sent him.

  • Another adult star, Avey Moon was trying to send the winner of her Chaturbate contest his prize -- a video titled POV Blowjob -- through her Google Drive account, but it wouldn't send.

  • Reddit made an announcement late yesterday explaining that the site has changed its content policy, forbidding transactions for certain goods and services that include physical sexual contact. A number of subreddits regularly used to help sex workers have been completedly banned. Those include r/Escorts , r/MaleEscorts and r/SugarDaddy .

 

Offsite Article: A New Bill Claims to Fight Sex Trafficking...


Link Here 31st March 2018
Full story: FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law...Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers
But it is ending up censoring everything and anything to do with sex

See article from time.com

 

Widespread censorship to target a small proportion of crime...

US Authorities censor backpage.com featuring small ads by sex workers advertising their services


Link Here 10th April 2018
Full story: FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law...Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers
The US authorities have taken control of a classified adverts website used by sex workers to advertise their services.

A notice was posted on Backpage.com's various international front pages late last week to inform visitors.

The site had previously shut down the adult section of its US site, but critics had alleged that prostitution ads had simply moved to other pages.

The authorities claim that some of the adverts were for trafficked sex workers, but such claims are generally hyped up by those campaigning to prohibit adult consensual sex work and rarely amount to any more than a few cases when properly investigated.

The US media has also reported that Backpage's co-founder Michael Lacey was arrested last week and his home raided.

The Californian authorities had previously attempted to close Dallas-based Backpage.com in 2016, when the state prosecuted the business's chief executive and two ex-owners - including Mr Lacey - over claims they had committed pimping offences and generated millions of dollars by hosting sex trade ads. However, the case was dismissed on the grounds that the US's Communications Decency Act said that publishers should not be held responsible for content created solely by their users.

But last month, Congress passed a new law, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (Fosta). It states that websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts should no longer be granted the same protection.

It has been reported that President Trump will sign a Senate-approved version of the act into law this week.

 

Web host Cloudfare bans sex workers social media site, Switter...

America's new FOSTA censorship law is proving devastatingly effective as adult consensual sex work related content has already been deleted from the US internet


Link Here 22nd April 2018
Full story: FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law...Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers
SESTA/FOSTA, a bill that president Donald Trump signed into law on April 11 continues to wreak havoc on the lives of sex workers across the United States and abroad.

After getting kicked off of platforms like Craigslist and advertising forums or pre-emptively limiting their digital footprint on social media platforms like Twitter, thousands of sex workers joined an alternative, decentralized social media platform called Switter, where they hoped to safely connect with and vet safe clients.

But on Wednesday, Assembly Four, the organization that developed Switter, announced that its content delivery network provided by the web-hosting company Cloudflare removed and blocked Switter.

At the time of writing, Switter has nearly 49,000 members and more than 376,500 posts, an explosion of activity since the service was launched in late March.

 

Vague language and multiple layers of ambiguity...

Human rights organisations petition the courts to block the US internet censorship law named FOSTA


Link Here 29th June 2018
Full story: FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law...Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers

Two human rights organizations, a digital library, an activist for sex workers, and a certified massage therapist have filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to block enforcement of FOSTA, the new federal law that silences online speech by forcing speakers to self-censor and requiring platforms to censor their users. The plaintiffs are represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Davis, Wright Tremaine LLP, Walters Law Group, and Daphne Keller.

In Woodhull Freedom Foundation et al. v. United States , the plaintiffs argue that FOSTA is unconstitutional, muzzling online speech that protects and advocates for sex workers and forces well-established, general interest community forums offline for fear of criminal charges and heavy civil liability for things their users might share.

FOSTA, or the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, was passed by Congress in March. But instead of focusing on the perpetrators of sex trafficking, FOSTA goes after online speakers, imposing harsh penalties for any website that might facilitate prostitution or contribute to sex trafficking. The vague language and multiple layers of ambiguity are driving constitutionally protected speech off the Internet at a rapid pace.

For example, plaintiff the Woodhull Freedom Foundation works to support the health, safety, and protection of sex workers, among other things. Woodhull wanted to publish information on its website to help sex workers understand what FOSTA meant to them. But instead, worried about liability under FOSTA, Woodhull was forced to censor its own speech and the speech of others who wanted to contribute to their blog. Woodhull is also concerned about the impact of FOSTA on its upcoming annual summit, scheduled for next month.

FOSTA chills sexual speech and harms sex workers, said Ricci Levy, executive director Woodhull Freedom Foundation. It makes it harder for people to take care of and protect themselves, and, as an organization working to protect people's fundamental human rights, Woodhull is deeply concerned about the damaging impact that this law will have on all people.

FOSTA calls into serious question the legality of online speech that advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, or provides health and safety information to sex workers. Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international organization that is also a plaintiff, advocates globally for ways to protect sex workers from violence, health risks, and other human rights abuses. The group is concerned that its efforts to expose abuses against sex workers and decriminalize voluntary sex work could be seen as facilitating prostitution, or in some way assisting sex trafficking.

HRW relies heavily on individuals spreading its reporting and advocacy through social media, said Dinah Pokempner, HRW General Counsel. We are worried that social media platforms and websites may block the sharing of this information out of concern it could be seen as demonstrating a reckless disregard of sex trafficking activities under FOSTA. This law is the wrong approach to the scourge of sex trafficking.

But FOSTA doesn't just impede the work of sex educators and activists. It also led to the shutdown of Craigslist's Therapeutic Services section, which has imperiled the business of a licensed massage therapist who is another plaintiff in this case. The Internet Archive joined this lawsuit against FOSTA because the law might hinder its work of cataloging and storing 330 billion web pages from 1996 to the present.

Because of the critical issues at stake, the lawsuit filed today asks the court to declare that FOSTA is unconstitutional, and asks that the government be permanently enjoined from enforcing the law.

FOSTA is the most comprehensive censorship of Internet speech in America in the last 20 years, said EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene. Despite good intentions, Congress wrote an awful and harmful law, and it must be struck down.

 

EFF Sues to Invalidate the US internet censorship law FOSTA...

By demonstrating that legitimate businesses are being unconstitutionally censored


Link Here 11th July 2018
Full story: FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law...Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers
The EFF writes:

We are asking a court to declare the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 ("FOSTA") unconstitutional and prevent it from being enforced. The law was written so poorly that it actually criminalizes a substantial amount of protected speech and, according to experts, actually hinders efforts to prosecute sex traffickers and aid victims.

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. 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.

EFF strongly opposed FOSTA throughout the legislative process . During the months-long Congressional debate on the law we expressed our concern that the law violated free speech rights and would do heavy damage to online freedoms. The law that was ultimately passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump was actually the most egregiously bad of those Congress had been considering.

What FOSTA Changed

FOSTA made three major changes to existing law. The first two involved changes to federal criminal law:

  • First, it created an entirely new federal crime by adding a new section to the Mann Act. The new law makes it a crime to "own, manage or operate" an online service with the intent to "promote or facilitate" "the prostitution of another person." That crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The law further makes it an "aggravated offense," punishable by up to 25 years in prison and also subject to civil lawsuits if "facilitation" was of the prostitution of 5 or more persons, or if it was done with "reckless disregard" that it "contributed to sex trafficking." An aggravated violation may also be the basis for an individual's civil lawsuit. The prior version of the Mann Act only made it illegal to physically transport a person across state lines for the purposes of prostitution.

  • Second, FOSTA expanded existing federal criminal sex trafficking law. Before SESTA, the law made it a crime to knowingly advertise sexual services of a minor or any person doing so only under force, fraud, or coercion, and also criminalized several other modes of conduct. The specific knowledge requirement for advertising (that one must know he advertisement was for sex trafficking) was an acknowledgement that advertising was entitled to some First Amendment protection. The prior law additionally made it a crime to financially benefit from "participation in a venture" of sex trafficking. FOSTA made seemingly a small change to the law: it defined "participation in a venture" extremely broadly to include "assisting, supporting, or facilitating." But this new very broad language has created great uncertainty about liability for speech other than advertising that someone might interpret as "assisting" or "supporting" sex trafficking, and what level of awareness of sex trafficking the participant must have.

As is obvious, these expansions of the law are fraught with vague and ambiguous terms that have created great uncertainty about what kind of online speech is now illegal. FOSTA does not define "facilitate", "promote", "contribute to sex trafficking," "assisting," or supporting" -- but the inclusion of all of these terms shows that Congress intended the law to apply expansively. Plaintiffs thus reasonably fear it will be applied to them. Plaintiffs Woodhull Freedom Foundation and Human Rights Watch advocate for the decriminalization of sex work, both domestically and internationally. It is unclear whether that advocacy is considered "facilitating" prostitution under FOSTA. Plaintiffs Woodhull and Alex Andrews offer substantial resources online to sex workers, including important health and safety information. This protected speech, and other harm reduction efforts, can also be seen as "facilitating" prostitution. And although each of the plaintiffs vehemently opposes sex trafficking, Congress's expressed sense in passing the law was that sex trafficking and sex work were "inextricably linked." Thus, plaintiffs are legitimately concerned that their advocacy on behalf of sex workers will be seen as being done in reckless disregard of some "contribution to sex trafficking," even though all plaintiffs vehemently oppose sex trafficking.

The third change significantly undercut the protections of one of the Internet's most important laws, 47 U.S.C. 230, originally a provision of the Communications Decency Act, commonly known simply as Section 230 or CDA 230:

  • FOSTA significantly undermined the legal protections intermediaries had under 42 U.S.C. 230, commonly known simply as Section 230. Section 230 generally immunized intermediaries form liability arising from content created by others--it was thus the chief protection that allowed Internet platforms for user-generated content to exist without having to review every piece of content appearing posted to them for potential legal liability. FOSTA undercut this immunity in three significant ways. First, Section 230 already had an exception for violations of federal criminal law, so the expansion of criminal law described above also automatically expanded the Section 230 exception. Second, FOSTA nullified the immunity also for state criminal lawsuits for violations of state laws that mirror the violations of federal law. And third, FOSTA allows for lawsuits by individual civil litigants.

The possibility of these state criminal and private civil lawsuit is very troublesome. FOSTA vastly magnifies the risk an Internet host bears of being sued. Whereas federal prosecutors typically carefully pick and choose which violations of law they pursue, the far more numerous state prosecutors may be more prone to less selective prosecutions. And civil litigants often do not carefully consider the legal merits of an action before pursing it in court. Past experience teaches us that they might file lawsuits merely to intimidate a speaker into silence -- the cost of defending even a meritless lawsuit being quite high. Lastly, whereas with federal criminal prosecutions, the US Department of Justice may offer clarifying interpretations of a federal criminal law that addresses concerns with a law's ambiguity, those interpretations are not binding on state prosecutors and the millions of potential private litigants.

FOSTA Has Already Censored The Internet

As a result of these hugely increased risks of liability, many platforms for online speech have shuttered or restructured. The following as just two examples:

  • Two days after the Senate passed FOSTA, Craigslist eliminated its Personals section, including non-sexual subcategories such as "Missed Connections" and "Strictly Platonic." Craigslist attributed this change to FOSTA, explaining "Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day." Craigslist also shut down its Therapeutic Services section and will not permit ads that were previously listed in Therapeutic Services to be re-listed in other sections, such as Skilled Trade Services or Beauty Services.

  • VerifyHim formerly maintained various online tools that helped sex workers avoid abusive clients. It described itself as "the biggest dating blacklist database on earth." One such resource was JUST FOR SAFETY, which had screening tools designed to help sex workers check to see if they might be meeting someone dangerous, create communities of common interest, and talk directly to each other about safety. Following passage of FOSTA, VerifyHim took down many of these tools, including JUST FOR SAFETY, and explained that it is "working to change the direction of the site."

Plaintiff Eric Koszyk is a certified massage therapist running his own non-sexual massage business as his primary source of income. Prior to FOSTA he advertised his services exclusively in Craigslist's Therapeutic Services section. That forum is no longer available and he is unable to run his ad anywhere else on the site, thus seriously harming his business. Plaintiff the Internet Archive fears that it can no longer rely on Section 230 to bar liability for content created by third parties and hosted by the Archive, which comprises the vast majority of material in the Archive's collection, on account of FOSTA's changes to Section 230. The Archive is concerned that some third-party content hosted by the Archive, such as archives of particular websites, information about books, and the books themselves, could be construed as promoting or facilitating prostitution, or assisting, supporting, or facilitating sex trafficking under FOSTA's expansive terms. Plaintiff Alex Andrews maintains the website RateThatRescue.org, a sex worker-led, public, free, community effort to share information about both the organizations and services on which sex workers can rely, and those they should avoid. Because the site is largely user-generated content, Andrews relies on Section 230's protections. She is now concerned that FOSTA now exposes her to potentially ruinous civil and criminal liability. She has also suspended moving forward with an app that would offer harm reduction materials to sex workers. Human Rights Watch relies heavily on individuals spreading its reporting and advocacy through social media. It is concerned that social media platforms and websites that host, disseminate, or allow users to spread their reports and advocacy materials may be inhibited from doing so because of FOSTA.

And many many others are experiencing the same uncertainty and fears of prosecution that are plaguing other advocates, service providers, platforms, and platform users since FOSTA became law.

We have asked the court to preliminarily enjoin enforcement of the law so that the plaintiffs and others can exercise their First Amendment rights until the court can issue a final ruling. But there is another urgent reason to halt enforcement of the law. Plaintiff Woodhull Freedom Foundation is holding its annual Sexual Freedom Summit August 2-, 2018. Like past years, the Summit features a track on sex work, this year titled "Sex as Work," that seeks to advance and promote the careers, safety, and dignity of individuals engaged in professional sex work. In presenting and promoting the Sexual Freedom Summit, and the Sex Work Track in particular, Woodhull operates and uses interactive computer services in numerous ways: Woodhull uses online databases and cloud storage services to organize, schedule and plan the Summit; Woodhull exchanges emails with organizers, volunteers, website developers, promoters and presenters during all phases of the Summit; Woodhull has promoted the titles of all workshops on its Summit website ; Woodhull also publishes the biographies and contact information for workshop presenters on its website, including those for the sex workers participating in the Sex Work Track and other tracks. Is publishing the name and contact information for a sex worker "facilitating the prostitution of another person"? If it is, FOSTA makes it a crime.

Moreover, most, if not all, of the workshops are also promoted by Woodhull on social media such as Facebook and Twitter; and Woodhull wishes to stream the Sex Work Track on Facebook, as it does other tracks, so that those who cannot attend can benefit from the information and commentary.

Without an injunction, the legality under FOSTA of all of these practices is uncertain. The preliminary injunction is necessary so that Woodhull can conduct the Sex as Work track without fear of prosecution.

It is worth emphasizing that Congress was repeatedly warned that it was passing a law that would censor far more speech than was necessary to address the problem of sex trafficking, and that the law would indeed hinder law enforcement efforts and pose great dangers to sex workers. During the Congressional debate on FOSTA and SESTA, anti-trafficking groups such as Freedom Network and the International Women's Health Coalition issued statements warning that the laws would hurt efforts to aid trafficking victims, not help them.

Even Senator Richard Blumenthal, an original cosponsor of the SESTA (the Senate bill) criticized the new Mann Act provision when it was proposed in the House bill, telling Wired "there is no good reason to proceed with a proposal that is opposed by the very survivors it claims to support." Nevertheless, Senator Blumenthal ultimately voted to pass FOSTA.

In support of the preliminary injunction , we have submitted the declarations of several experts who confirm the harmful effects FOSTA is having on sex workers, who are being driven back to far more dangerous street-based work as online classified sites disappear, to the loss of online "bad date lists" that informed sex workers of risks associated with certain clients, to making sex less visible to law enforcement, which can no longer scour and analyze formerly public websites where sex trafficking had been advertised. For more information see the Declarations of Dr. Alexandra Lutnick , Prof. Alexandra Frell Levy , and Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco .

 

Trafficking police may as well become traffic police...

FOSTA internet censorship has blind-sided police in their pursuit of pimps and traffickers


Link Here 12th July 2018
Full story: FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law...Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers
Supporters of the US internet censorship law FOSTA were supposedly attempting to target pimps and traffickers, but of course their target was the wider sex work industry. Hence they weren't really interested in the warning that the law would make it harder to target pimps and sex traffickers as their activity would be driven off radar.

Anyway it seems that the police at least have started to realise that the warning is coming true, but I don't suppose this will bother the politicians much.

Over in Indianapolis, the police have just arrested their first pimp in 2018, and it involved an undercover cop being approached by the pimp. The reporter asks why there have been so few such arrests, and the police point the finger right at the shutdown of Backpage:

The cases, according to Sgt. John Daggy, an undercover officer with IMPD's vice unit, have just dried up. The reason for that is pretty simple: the feds closed police's best source of leads, the online personals site Backpage, earlier this year. Daggy explained:

We've been a little bit blinded lately because they shut Backpage down. I get the reasoning behind it, and the ethics behind it, however, it has blinded us. We used to look at Backpage as a trap for human traffickers and pimps.

With Backpage, we would subpoena the ads and it would tell a lot of the story. Also, with the ads we would catch our victim at a hotel room, which would give us a crime scene. There's a ton of evidence at a crime scene. Now, since [Backpage] has gone down, we're getting late reports of them and we don't have much to go by.

 

Updated: Speaking of censorship...

YouTube bans Erica Lust's series In Conversation with Sex Workers


Link Here 15th July 2018
Full story: FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law...Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers
YouTube has banned Erika Lust's series In Conversation with Sex Workers.

There was NO explicit content, NO sex, NO naked bodies, NO (female) nipples or anything else that breaks YouTube's strict guidelines in the series, Lust wrote on her website. It was simply sex workers speaking about their work and experiences.

Presumably the censorship is inspired by the US FOSTA internet censorship where YouTube would be held liable for content that facilitates sex trafficking. It is cheaper and easier for YouTube to take down any content that could in anyway connected to sex trafficking than spend time checking it out.

Erika Lust, a Barcelona-based erotic filmmaker, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday that YouTube terminated her eponymous channel on July 4, when it had around 11,000 subscribers. The ban came after an interviewee for the company's series In Conversation With Sex Workers, which had been on YouTube for about a week, tweeted to promote her involvement in the film. Within hours of that tweet the channel was terminated, citing violation of community guidelines.

Update: Charlotte Rose too

15th July 2018. See article from twitter.com

Charlotte Rose, a well known sex industry campaigner tweets:

We've just received an email to say that my YouTube channel has been suspended with no room for appeal - looks like no more live streams of @rosetalkssex?

I don't understand why I've been a target of a total censorship! @YouTube removes my Chanel and 5 years worth of content (which made them money) with no warning.

 


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