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December 7, 2012 at 4:33 PM
Manuel Valdes / The Associated Press
A federal judge on Thursday struck down a Washington state law aimed at battling online sex trafficking after an Internet advocacy group filed a lawsuit challenging the measure’s constitutionality.
Judge Ricardo Martinez’s order was filed Thursday in Seattle after the state declined to continue arguing in U.S. District Court over Engrossed Senate Bill 6252, one of several measures written by lawmakers earlier this year to combat online sex trafficking. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill, aimed at online classified site Backpage.com, into law in March.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued on behalf of online library Internet Archive, arguing that targeting Internet service providers was unconstitutional and violated federal law. Backpage.com sued separately.
The organization said the Washington Legislature passed the law “despite its obvious potential to curtail legitimate speech.”
For example, the vague and overbroad statute threatened to impose felony liability not only on those directly engaged in illegal acts but also on those who “indirectly” caused to be “disseminated” any “implicit” offers for commercial sex acts. That could potentially affect services that merely provide access to information, like web hosts, ISPs, or online libraries, impeding their ability to operate,” the organization said in a statement.
Attorneys for Backpage.com and the EFF argued the state law came into conflict with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law that protects online service providers from the acts of its subscribers or users.
State Attorney General Rob McKenna said unless Congress makes changes to that federal rule, an appeal to uphold the state law would have been lengthy and costly.
“We disagree with Judge Martinez,” state McKenna said in a statement. “We do not believe that advertisements for a service illegal in every state — prostitution — are protected by the Constitution. That part of his decision would likely be overturned upon appeal.”
Contrary to McKenna’s statement, prostitution is legal in Nevada in licensed brothels.
As part of Martinez’s order, the state will pay $200,000 to cover legal fees of Backpage.com and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Phoenix-based Village Voice Media Holdings LLC owns Backpage.com. It also owned free arts weekly newspapers across the country, including New York’s Village Voice and the Seattle Weekly, but the newspapers were sold to a separate company earlier this year.
September 26, 2012 at 6:11 PM
Mayor Mike McGinn said city departments could begin advertising in Seattle Weekly for the first time since July 2011 now that its new owners have distanced themselves from Backpage.com, a listing service that has been accused of exploiting minors for illegal sex trade. But that doesn’t mean he’s done fighting Backpage.com’s business practices.
“We appreciate the decision by the Seattle Weekly to disassociate from Backpage.com,” said McGinn said in a statement. “But the fact remains that Backpage.com continues to be an accelerant of the sexual exploitation of children. I remain committed to working with state leaders and mayors across the country to stop Backpage.com’s abhorrent profit-driven practices.”
State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said she would keep up the crusade against Backpage.com even though the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington blocked implementation of Senate Bill 6251. The law would have made it a crime for companies to advertise people in sex ads without verifying the age of the person in the ads, but a Backpage.com lawsuit against the state prompted the court-ordered injunction against it.
“By requiring age verification of those depicted in the ads, Backpage.com’s revenue would have a relatively small impact,” Kohl-Welles said in a statement. “Instead it chose to sue the state to block implementation of our new law.”
June 5, 2012 at 9:29 PM
The Associated Press
A federal judge in Seattle has temporarily blocked enforcement of a new Washington state law that would require classified advertising companies to verify the ages of people in sex-related advertisements.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez granted a 14-day temporary restraining order sought by the website Backpage.com. Backpage filed suit this week to block the law pending a judge’s decision on whether it should be struck down. The law was due to take effect Thursday.
Backpage contends the law is invalid.
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill into law in an effort to cut down on child sex trafficking. It allows for the criminal prosecution of classified advertising company representatives who publish or cause publication of sex-related ads peddling children.
Backpage is a primary target of the law.
State Attorney General Rob McKenna says he will “forcefully defend this groundbreaking law.”
About The Today File
The Today File is a general news blog featuring real-time coverage of Seattle and the Northwest. It is reported by the news staff of The Seattle Times and edited by Assistant Metro Editor Nick Provenza.
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