A California judge on Wednesday said he was likely to dismiss criminal pimping charges against the chief executive and controlling shareholders of Backpage.com, ruling that a federal immunity shield for tech companies protected them from prosecution for content posted by third parties.
Backpage, the second-largest U.S. online classified ad service after Craigslist, has faced scrutiny from the U.S. Senate as well as civil lawsuits over allegations that the site facilitates sex trafficking, especially of children.
The controversy over Backpage.com is at the center of a debate over how much liability tech companies should face for user-generated content posted on their platforms.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris last month brought criminal charges against Carl Ferrer, the Backpage CEO, along with shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin. However, the defendants argued that the ads on Backpage were posted by third parties and that the state offered no evidence that the defendants knew ads placed by escort services were solicitations for sex.
Under the federal Communications Decency Act, the defendants argued that they could not be prosecuted for content posted by third parties.
In a tentative ruling on Wednesday, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman agreed, saying Congress passed the Communications Decency Act to protect free speech online.
“Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this Court, to revisit,” Bowman wrote.
During a hearing later on Wednesday, the judge said the AG’s office could file additional briefs on the issue and that he would make a final ruling by Dec. 9, according to his clerk Trevor Shaddix.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office declined to comment.
The Senate voted 96-0 earlier this year to hold Backpage in civil contempt after it did not comply with a subpoena to hand over documents explaining how it combats sex trafficking in ads on the adult section of its website.
One civil lawsuit against Backpage was filed by three young girls who said they were raped multiple times after being advertised on the site. The girls alleged Backpage’s rules were intended to instruct pimps how to post trafficking ads that evade law enforcement.
The Washington state supreme court refused Backpage’s request to dismiss that case. However, a federal appeals court threw out a similar trafficking case involving children against Backpage in Massachusetts earlier this year, saying the free speech principles embodied in the Communications Decency Act were paramount.
(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Leslie Adler and Chris Reese)
Beto O’Rourke calls for a ‘war tax’ in release of health care plan for veterans
The Democratic presidential candidate uses his eighth policy announcement to focus on an area that he prioritized in Congress.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke on Monday morning released a plan to improve the lives of veterans, returning to an area of priority during his time in the U.S. House for his latest 2020 policy rollout.
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Conservative Ben Shapiro tweeted something many found offensive — so now he’s calling his critics ‘garbage’
Right wing "thought leader" Ben Shapiro appeared today to say not using the "N" word is nearly impossible as he defended conservative, pro-gun teen Kyle Kashuv, one of the Parkland survivors who just had his acceptance to Harvard rescinded over his racist remarks, which included repeated use of the "N" word.
To be clear, Shapiro denies that's what he meant.
Here is Shapiro on Twitter, in what many took as him appearing to call not using the "N" word – in Kashuv's case, repeatedly, over and over and over again, "an insane, cruel standard no one can possibly meet."
Obsessed Trump: ‘Only fake polls show us behind’ Democrats. Fox News: 5 Dems would beat him
President Donald Trump is obsessed with polls – but not facts – and increasingly so. He just fired his internal pollsters after leaked internal poll numbers show devastating lossesfor Trump in key battleground states.