Concerns remain over internet freedoms as Senate continues push to end online trafficking

Lisa Thompson says it is as easy to buy a person online as it is to buy a pizza.
Lisa Thompson says it is as easy to buy a person online as it is to buy a pizza. (GRAYDC)
Published: Nov. 30, 2017 at 2:12 PM CST
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Lawmakers in Washington are looking for ways to stop online sex trafficking. Senator John Thune (R-SD) is pushing legislation that would hold certain websites accountable if their site hosts trafficking ads. An anti-trafficking advocate says this legislation needs to pass soon before the problem worsens.

“They’re making it as easy as buying a pizza to buy a human being online,” said Lisa Thompson from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

Thompson wants lawmakers to act before it’s too late. Her work led her to Capitol Hill to advocate for a change to legislation that provides protections for websites. She says some sites are able to host advertisements and grow the trafficking industry because of these protections.

“The sex slave auction block of our modern day society is taking place on the internet and this is why we have to deal with this issue,” said Thompson.

Thune is a co-sponsor on the legislation that would hold these websites accountable for hosting this activity. The bill forces internet companies to take on more of the burden and moderate their content.

“We need to do everything we can to prevent them from having access to mediums that would enable them to commit these types of crimes,” said Thune.

Some see this as overreach, infringing on internet freedoms. There are fears that moderating online content is a slippery slope.

“Current law ensures that intermediaries are not held legally responsible for content that their users post on their services, and this is an incredibly important protection,” said Emma Llanso who directs the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

She thinks the Senate’s legislation would have severe consequences for online communities.

“Every website that has an open comment section is going to have to worry about...are they in compliance with this law?” said Llanso.

The legislation has over 50 bipartisan co-sponsors. It’s awaiting a vote in the Senate.