WASHINGTON — Backpage.com, noting that “censorship is not a solution to human trafficking or child exploitation,” will now be taking on the federal government in an effort to keep on selling adult advertising with impunity on its site.
Fresh from a injunctive victory against Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart after he asked credit card companies to stop doing business with the site, Backpage.com on Friday filed a civil claim against U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, claiming that the recently passed Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act is unconstitutionally vague, overbroad and infringes on its First Amendment rights.
The SAVE Act imposes a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and up to life imprisonment for anyone found in violation of the statute, which allows sex-trafficking charges against user-generated platforms that allow advertising involving a victim of sexual exploitation.
“Many experts and law enforcement officials agree that politically-motivated responses, including whack-a-mole censorship against one website after another, are ill-advised and will accomplish nothing,” Backpage.com said in its suit. “They advocate that a better approach is to use the Internet and to work with cooperative website providers such as Backpage.com to identify, investigate and prosecute illegal conduct and rescue victims.”
Backpage.com, led by attorney Robert Corn Revere, stated that contrary to statements of some of the SAVE Act’s Congressional supporters, criminal liability cannot constitutionally be imposed on a website merely for providing a forum for speech that some individuals misuse for sex trafficking.
“Given the enormous volume of third-party content they receive and disseminate every day, websites cannot possibly review every post to guarantee nothing is unlawful,” Backpage.com said.
As the law is written, Backpage.com said, the SAVE Act fails to give websites, publishers and others a “reasonable opportunity to know what conduct is prohibited and what is permitted.”
“With all its vagaries, the act could allow ad hoc and subjective interpretations by prosecutors with attendant dangers of arbitrary and discriminatory application. And, given the severe penalties under the act — up to life imprisonment — the risks and likely speech-chilling effect of the law is also severe.”
With the suit, Backpage is seeking a declaratory judgment stating that the SAVE Act's language with regard to websites, publishers or other parties that distribute or disseminate speech are unconstitutional under the First and Fifth Amendments.
Filed in Washington, the federal suit also is seeking a permanent injunction enjoining prosecution, enforcement or criminal liability, as well as attorneys fees.