Sen. Portman takes on sex trafficking: What’s really going on?

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Sen. Portman takes on sex trafficking: What’s really going on?

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Sen. Rob Portman met with Dayton Daily News and WHIO reporters and editors on Monday. Photo by Eric Dietrich

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, says sex trafficking is a national stain and hopes his new bill will stop internet sites from enabling traffickers.

But the bill has come across opposition from the group representing Facebook, Google and dozens more of the largest internet companies.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday. Here are three big things to know about Portman’s bill.

1. Backpage, one of the world’s largest classified advertising websites, has successfully defended itself in a spate of lawsuits from parents of children trafficked on the site. Backpage successfully argued that they are protected by a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that protects internet publishers from content created by users.

This year, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Portman chairs, released a report which charged that Backpage published the ads after deleting certain words and content that suggests it involves a child. The effort sanitized the ads while allowing them to be posted on the website, according to the report.

2. Portman says his Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act is the solution for holding internet wrongdoers accountable.

“We have to say that there will be, under what’s called the Communications Decency Act, a change that says if you knowingly facilitate, support or assist sex trafficking, you are liable,” Portman said Monday in an interview at the Dayton Daily News’ offices.

It does so by allowing victims of sex trafficking to take websites that enable sex trafficking to court; by eliminating federal liability protections for websites that assist, support or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws and by allowing state police — not just the Department of Justice — to crack down on people or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.

3. The group representing Facebook, Google and dozens more of the largest internet companies will testify in opposition to Portman’s bill, according to an advance copy of the testimony given to the Dayton Daily News before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Internet Association says Portman’s well-intentioned Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act would hold internet sites potentially liable for sex trafficking on their sites, even if the website has no knowledge it is doing so or any practical way of stopping it.

Portman disagrees, calling the opposition “ridiculous.”

Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the information technology solutions arm of the former Hewlett-Packard Conpany, endorsed Portman’s legislation Monday.

“As an industry-leading, global technology company that has long taken a stand against forced labor and human trafficking, and has made it a priority to protect and elevate vulnerable worker groups, we believe the technology sector has a responsibility to help policymakers and law enforcement combat illicit and criminal activity on the internet, especially sex trafficking,” wrote John F. Schultz, the company’s general counsel.

Staff Writer Jessica Wehrman contributed reporting from Washington.

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