WASHINGTON — So what’s the deal with the anti-sex trafficking bill known as SESTA?
The Senate passed the piece of legislation about two weeks ago after earlier passage by the House of Representatives, and so far the needle hasn’t moved on which way it will go. Will the president sign the bill into law as expected or veto it?
Amidst all the chaos of what will happen next, the bill’s collateral damages are already being felt, with website closures and worries that sex workers will be unable to screen and cross-reference clients.
The bill, H.R. 1865, paints a broad black stroke across adult entertainment services on the internet.
SESTA, aka SESTA/FOSTA, amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides companies immunity from most liability for publishing third-party content, and allows victims to sue sites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking.
The bill also allows state prosecutors to bring criminal charges against the operators of sites that facilitate prostitution.
Industry attorney Joe Obenberger said that he’s unsure about the bill’s fate and that it could go either way.
“To many, it is a foregone conclusion that Trump will approve the bill in a signing ceremony,” Obenberger told XBIZ. “But I’m not sure. He could be taking a look at the bill and saying it’s too restrictive and veto it.”
Another industry attorney, Lawrence Walters, said that he couldn’t imagine any chance of a veto, particularly since Trump's administration has publicly approved the bill.
“I suspect we’ll see a signing ceremony soon. It is Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, so …,” Walters told XBIZ.
“The U.S. Senate [could be] holding the bill until they return to session to avoid any chance of a pocket veto ... odd but possible,” Fattorosi said.
A pocket veto is an indirect veto by retaining the bill unsigned until it is too late for it to be dealt with during the legislative session.
“There seems to be quite a bit of confusion right now related to the official enacting of the law,” industry attorney Corey Silverstein told XBIZ, noting he’s unaware of any evidence that the bill has been presented to the President for signature yet.
“Where things get really complicated is figuring out the timeline for the president signing the bill and what happens if the president fails to sign within the allocated timeframe,” Silverstein said. “The Constitution grants the president 10 days to review a measure passed by the Congress. If the president has not signed the bill after 10 days, it becomes law without his signature.
“However, if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period, the bill does not become law. According to the U.S. Senate’s website the next scheduled convening of the Congress isn’t going to occur until April 5.”
“Where things get even more complicated is that the House of Representatives is responsible to send this bill to the president for signature and according to the Congress’ website that has not yet happened.”
Silverstein noted that it would be quite unusual for the president to publicly applaud a bill and then not sign it.
“But, with this president, anything seems to be possible,” Silverstein said. “I would not bet against this bill ultimately getting enacted and everyone in the adult entertainment industry should be planning accordingly.”
So far, the chilling effects caused by the bill’s passage in the Senate last month has altered the internet’s landscape in the U.S. and beyond. Sites offering all kinds of adult content have made some knee-jerk moves in recent weeks.
Other reports of closures include MyScarletBook.com and ProvidingSupport.com, along with YellowPages.com, which shut down its escort services and removed ads.
MyFreeCams also changed its “terms of service” to explicitly ban any transaction that involves an offering to meet a site member for tokens.
Social network FetLife.com said that it wasn’t shutting down; however, its operator said that the site likely will have to make some changes.
In moves that likely will affect international users, Google Play updated its policy to ban explicit content such as “promotional images of sex toys” and “apps that promote escort services.”
In addition, Google Drive deleted explicit content and locked out users, and Microsoft’s terms of service were updated, banning the use of “offensive language” and “inappropriate content,” such as nudity that may result in suspensions or bans for users of Skype, Xbox, Office and other services.