Woodhull Freedom Foundation Lawsuit Challenges FOSTA

Woodhull Freedom Foundation Lawsuit Challenges FOSTA
Rhett Pardon

WASHINGTON — Lawyers representing the Woodhull Freedom Foundation and other plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the constitutionality of FOSTA.

Woodhull — along with the Human Rights Watch, the Internet Archive and two individuals, Alex Andrews and Eric Koszyk—filed the case focusing on First and Fifth Amendments violations that come with the law amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provided companies immunity from most liability for publishing third-party content.

“FOSTA chills sexual speech and harms sex workers,” Woodhull CEO Ricci Levy said. “It makes it harder for people to take care of and protect themselves, and, as an organization working to protect people’s fundamental human rights, Woodhull is deeply concerned about the damaging impact that this law will have on all people.

The plaintiffs are represented by Bob Corn-Revere, Ronald London, Daphne Keller, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Lawrence Walters in the suit filed at U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.

Walters of Walters Law Group told XBIZ: “We are honored to represent the courageous plaintiffs in this case. FOSTA should be enjoined because of its chilling effect on speech, and because it hinders efforts to prosecute sex traffickers or aid victims.”

“The law has already resulted in massive online censorship,” Walters said. “Reducing sex trafficking is a laudable goal, but not at the expense of First Amendment rights. With FOSTA, Congress got the balance wrong and the lawsuit explains why.”

The law, which passed Congress with bipartisan support and signed by President Trump on April 11, 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.

FOSTA, known formally as the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, brings new tools for law enforcement, including the ability to bring criminal charges against the operators of sites that facilitate prostitution.

Woodhull, in a statement, said that FOSTA represents the most broadly based censorship of Internet speech since the Communications Decency Act of 1996, effectively driving large swaths of constitutionally-protected speech off the Internet.    

“FOSTA … erroneously conflates consensual sex work with trafficking, and will interfere with more productive attempts to protect vulnerable people from harm,” the group said. “FOSTA also chills online expression about sexual topics and encourages massive self-censorship by internet platforms.”

Check out the lawsuit here.