WASHINGTON — Following passage of a related House bill in May, two U.S. senators have introduced legislation that could have a significant impact on online adult sites by imposing extensive recordkeeping requirements for adult advertising.
Last week, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Mark Kirk introduced the Senate version of the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act that would create federal criminal liability for online content publishers who host ads related to child trafficking.
SAVE, with its focus on web platforms like Backpage.com that offers sexual services and personal ads, would make it a federal crime to host an advertisement that "facilitates or is designed to facilitate" sex acts with anyone under 18 years old.
The bill introduces extensive requirements, similar to the 18 U.S.C. 2257 recordkeeping rules for adult producers, that would broadly implicate advertising network service providers, including third-party brokers of online or wireless advertising who offer banners, sponsorships, email, keyword searches and slotting fees.
Hosts of online adult ads would be required to review ads before publication and obtain a government-issued photo ID from the person who created the ads and any people appearing in them.
The piece of legislation also would require a valid telephone number and credit card number from those persons and "prohibit the use of euphemisms and codewords" in ads, as well as outlaw the use of prepaid debit cards or cryptocurrencies in placing paid ads.
Recordkeeping of those individuals would need to be maintained for a minimum of seven years and operators would have to make them "available to the [U.S.] Attorney General, any designee of the Attorney General, the attorney general of a state, and any designee of the attorney general of a state for inspection at all reasonable times."
Failure to maintain records or making false entries would result in five-year sentences and fines starting at $250,000 per violation. Repeat offenders could get up to 15 years and $500,000 fines.
Violators also could have their real or personal property seized and forfeited; gross proceeds also would be subject to seizure.
The bill's broad language could effectively put a crimp in every aspect of online advertising or social networking, including the self-promotion of adult performers who use Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
It also could be problematic for user-generated content, including adult tube sites, that host high volumes of content and have little to no control over what users decide to upload.
The Center for Democracy and Technology said that the Senate version of SAVE raises several concerns, including new potential liabilities and unintended consequences for third parties.
"Intermediaries who host users’ content will be faced with a wide and difficult-to-define range of content that may pull them into the bill’s criminal liability provisions," the group said.
Further, operators of online classified ad sites would have a strong disincentive to create categories for “adult” ads or to do any sort of pre-screening of user-uploaded content, in order to avoid obtaining knowledge that they are hosting adult advertising.
Operators also would be likely to take down any content that is reported to them as being an adult advertisement, rather than risk prosecution for continuing to host flagged content.
"This would essentially result in a de facto notice-and-takedown regime for adult content, and would create a potentially powerful heckler’s veto mechanism for individuals seeking to suppress other users’ speech," the group said.