Washington Settles Over Failed State Sex Trafficking Law

Dec 12, 2012

The state of Washington will not appeal a federal court decision to strike down a new state sex trafficking law. The law would have held online websites like Backpage.com accountable for illegal ads posted on their sites.

Washington legislators wrote the bill with certain ads in mind: ones posted by pimps selling the services of underage girls. But the classified ads site Backpage sued and a federal judge struck down the law.

Now, the parties have settled. As part of the agreement, Washington has to pay Backpage $200,000 in attorneys fees.

A nonprofit called the Internet Archive joined in Backpage’s lawsuit against the state. IA publishes the "Wayback Machine," a site that attempts to archive the entire Internet.

Both parties argued Washington’s new state law would have conflicted with an important federal act that protects a free and open Internet. They said the federal law is crucial to how the Internet works. They said, for example, it protects Facebook from being responsible for what users post on its site or what users say when they chat to each other.

In Seattle this past July, US Judge Ricardo Martinez agreed.

Attorney General Rob McKenna says the state had to settle or risk paying millions in fees.

McKenna says Backpage and other online publishers are hiding behind this federal law, the Communications Decency Act, and he wants to change it. “The CDA can be changed so that it doesn’t act as a shield for publishers like Backpage.com that are making millions and millions of dollars from the posting or the sale of ads for kids," said McKenna. "There has to be a way to require them to take more responsibility for what’s being published on their website without discouraging the Internet as a forum for the exchange of ideas.”

McKenna says he’ll join many US Senators and advocacy groups in a search for ways to change the Communications Decency Act.