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posted by martyb on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:13PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the back-and-forth dept.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday temporarily blocked a congressional subpoena that seeks information on how the classified advertising website Backpage.com screens ads for possible sex trafficking.

The order came hours after Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer asked the high court to intervene, saying the case threatens the First Amendment rights of online publishers.

A federal appeals court ruled 2-1 on Friday that the website must respond to the subpoena within 10 days. Roberts said Backpage does not have to comply with the appeals court order until further action from the Supreme Court.

[...] The Senate panel has tried for nearly a year to force Backpage to produce certain documents as part of its investigation into human trafficking over the Internet.

After the website refused to comply, the Senate voted 96-0 in March to hold the website in contempt.

[...] While Backpage has produced over 16,000 pages of documents responding to the subpoena, Ferrer said documents relating to the website's system for reviewing ads are part of the editorial process protected under the First Amendment.

"This case presents a question of exceptional nationwide importance involving the protection the First Amendment provides to online publishers of third-party content when they engage in core editorial functions," Ferrer said in a brief filed to Roberts.

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SUPREME_COURT_SEX_TRAFFICKING


Original Submission

Related Stories

Backpage's Dallas Offices Raided, CEO Charged With "Pimping" 15 comments

Backpage, an online classified advertising website, has had its offices in Dallas, Texas raided. The CEO was arrested in Texas on a California warrant, and two others have also been charged with crimes related to the operation of the website:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and California Attorney General Kamala Harris said that a three-year-long joint investigation revealed that adult and child sex trafficking victims were forced into prostitution through escort ads that appear on the web site. They also alleged that Ferrer and shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin made millions of dollars from illegal sex trade.

Ferrer faces charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping, while Lacey and Larkin face conspiracy to commit pimping charges. Lacey and Larkin were not in custody on Thursday, and it was not immediately clear when Ferrer would make his first court appearance. Undercover officers in California posted escort ads online that led them to johns who used Backpage, and authorities interviewed more than a half dozen sex trafficking victims who confirmed they paid Backpage to post ads on the web site promoting prostitution.

[...] In addition to its adult services ads, Backpage also publishes advertising from people renting apartments, selling a car or advertising a job opening. But the company's internal revenue reports show that from January 2013 to March 2015, nearly 99% of Backpage's worldwide income was generated from the web site's "adult" section, according to charging documents filed in California. The company collected over $51 million revenue in California during that period.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a Chicago-area Sheriff who was ordered by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to stop threatening credit card companies that do business with Backpage. A month ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily blocked a Congressional subpoena into the site's operations on First Amendment grounds.

Law enforcement officials around the country have complained about prostitution (especially that of children) facilitated by Backpage for years. Now California and Texas officials will have to prove that Backpage's seemingly hands-off approach is illegal. Reason's blog notes that Carl Ferrer is not accused of performing the crimes he has been charged with, but is accused of running a website that others used to facilitate crimes. Backpage also reports ads suspected of containing under-18s to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC's President says the organization applauds the charges and that "the criminal action initiated today will lead to new hope for children who are sold for sex online."

Also at NYT, Dallas News, NBC, CNN, Reuters, and Ars Technica. Redacted California criminal complaint.

The first result in a Google News search for "backpage" is sometimes a randomly placed text ad for their site: "Free classified ads with photos. Find houses and apts for rent, personals, jobs, cats and dogs for sale."


Original Submission   Alternate Submission #1   Alternate Submission #2

FBI Seizes backpage.com and Affiliates 46 comments

Notorious website backpage.com has been seized according to NY Daily News.

Sex ads platform Backpage.com was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Friday hours after its founder's Phoenix home was raided.

Visitors to the site landed on a notice from the federal government announcing its seizure.

"Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, with analytical assistance from the Joint Regional Intelligence Center," the announcement read.

Founder's home also raided by the FBI Friday morning.

U.S. Government Seizes backpage.com

The FBI, Justice Department, and other agencies have seized backpage.com, and one of the co-founders had their home raided:

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:21PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:21PM (#398765)

    With the drug war becoming increasingly unpopular, it's time for a new bogeyman: Sex trafficking. Since the government needs to exaggerate the amount of sex trafficking, simply redefine prostitution in such a way that nearly all prostitution qualifies as sex trafficking. How terrifying! Now you can harass businesses and people under the pretext of reducing sex trafficking, no matter how much collateral damage you create. Who cares about freedom of speech or innocent unless proven guilty? If it saves just one...

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by takyon on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:46PM

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:46PM (#398775) Journal

      People are getting tired of hearing about Sex Trafficking. Make sure to refer to it as Child Sex Trafficking.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by bob_super on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:48PM

        by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:48PM (#398776)

        Doesn't involve enough agencies yet, try: Web-based International Child Sex Trafficking (by drug cartels)

        • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:17PM

          by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:17PM (#398853) Journal

          Don't forget ISIS.

          --
          In order to make Halloween scary this year, children are ordered NOT to wear masks.
          • (Score: 2) by TheGratefulNet on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:19PM

            by TheGratefulNet (659) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:19PM (#398854)

            and OSPF and IGRP, as well. those are evil, too.

            --
            "It is now safe to switch off your computer."
    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:24PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:24PM (#398789)

      If it saves just one...

      Who really could put a value on human life...? Well, turns out Uncle Sam does: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_of_life#Life_Value_in_the_US [wikipedia.org]

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:36PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:36PM (#398794)

      . . . and who cares about the women forced to do this?

      • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:48PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:48PM (#398798)

        You can care about them but still reject the notion that we should discard our freedoms and constitutional rights to help solve the problem. I don't want there to be terrorist attacks, but I would rather take the risk of having terrorist attacks than have the government conduct mass surveillance on the populace. Surely 'the land of the free and the home of the brave' can keep its cowardice and authoritarian tendencies in check?

        • (Score: 4, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @06:06PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @06:06PM (#398803)

          Surely 'the land of the free and the home of the brave' can keep its cowardice and authoritarian tendencies in check?

          Nope! We're all about cowardice and authoritarianism these days. Don't forget to reject any science that shows that homosexuality is normal or that cannabis is a fairly nonaddictive medicine that can also be safely used recreationally. We're going to build a wall and make Islam pay for it! We're going to throw all the undesirables out, and if that's not feasible, we'll just kill them and burn their bodies. If we're not making anything and everything that even deviates the slightest from the One Way to Live illegal, political correctness has won, and god will unleash his wrath upon us by collapsing the economy and turning you gay.

          And don't call me Shirley.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @09:45PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @09:45PM (#398882)

            political correctness has won

            Well, what you're saying is rather politically incorrect so I'm sure political correctness still isn't as big a thing as you make it out to be...

    • (Score: 2) by frojack on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:38PM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:38PM (#398795) Journal

      Ah the myth of the independent self employed sex worker raises its head again.
      Even where prostitution is legalized [wikipedia.org], women and girls are trafficed.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:45PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:45PM (#398797)

        Even if they aren't independent, that does not imply sex trafficking. What's truly a myth is all the moralistic fearmongering.

        Even where prostitution is legalized, women and girls are trafficed.

        Even less than usual, I would imagine.

        But I guess nothing will satisfy you outside of absolute perfection.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 08 2016, @04:32PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 08 2016, @04:32PM (#399221)

          Even where prostitution is legalized, women and girls are trafficed.

          Even less than usual, I would imagine.

          What you imagine means nothing to me.

          But I guess nothing will satisfy you outside of absolute perfection.

          I can't speak for frojack, but a citation of a credible source--something that goes a bit beyond what your feeble mind can imagine--would work for me.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by bob_super on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:58PM

        by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:58PM (#398800)

        > Ah the myth of the independent self employed sex worker raises its head again.

        One of my friends was one. She had some really bad days, but it did pay for a roof and college. (no, I couldn't have afforded her services, she was really just a college friend)
        They are not a myth, even if they are not the typical case. She had decided legal lap dances didn't have enough buck-for-yuck return, compared to execs in suits.

        > Even where prostitution is legalized, women and girls are trafficed.

        Well, Nevada is a pretty bad example, with one guy owning most of the brothels, and some pretty girls-hostile local laws. The bulk of the demand is too far from the legal and overpriced offer.
        If there was a real red light district/system, with local and federal police (to limit corruption) checking the providers regularly, it would reduce the incentive (let's not try to argue Vegas is interested in reducing demand).

        • (Score: 2) by frojack on Wednesday September 07 2016, @06:35PM

          by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday September 07 2016, @06:35PM (#398815) Journal

          Well, Nevada is a pretty bad example,

          You are free to offer a different example where legal prostitution eliminates or substantially reduces human trafficking and pimp-induced-slavery.
          I suppose its possible that might exist somewhere, but even if women ran the world, girls would be trafficked against their will.

          As for your remarks about Vegas, I assume you do know prostitution is illegal there, - even if still available).

          --
          No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
          • (Score: 1) by Francis on Wednesday September 07 2016, @07:58PM

            by Francis (5544) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @07:58PM (#398843)

            Sweden has probably the best model. Selling sex is legal, but buying, pimping and trafficking are illegal.

            It cuts down on the typical problems associated with prostitution. Legalization schemes tend to break because it's surprisingly hard to tell the difference between forced and voluntary prostitution in brothels.

            • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:02PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:02PM (#398845)

              Legalization schemes tend to break because it's surprisingly hard to tell the difference between forced and voluntary prostitution in brothels.

              I feel the same way about encryption. It's hard to tell the good guys from the bad. To make law enforcement's job easier, we may need to place some restrictions on what encryption the general public is allowed to use.

              • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:21PM

                by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:21PM (#398855) Journal

                While we're at it, we should relax the constitution to make policing, investigating and prosecuting easier.

                Police work is easy in a police state.

                --
                In order to make Halloween scary this year, children are ordered NOT to wear masks.
              • (Score: 0, Troll) by Francis on Wednesday September 07 2016, @11:43PM

                by Francis (5544) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @11:43PM (#398920)

                Nice straw man you've got there. There's plenty of legitimate reasons for people to use cryptography and none for allowing people to pay for sex. And absolutely no reason to allow pimping or otherwise profiting off other people's prostitution.

                • (Score: 3, Insightful) by bob_super on Thursday September 08 2016, @01:18AM

                  by bob_super (1357) on Thursday September 08 2016, @01:18AM (#398951)

                  > There's plenty of legitimate reasons (...) and none for allowing people to pay for sex.

                  That would be quite incorrect.
                  People pay for sex all the time, except that it's typically not a direct payment, but in the various forms of flowers, clothes, food, a roof overhead, a car...
                  People also pay for all kind of legal disgusting activities involving body parts and/or fluids, whether it's for health or for fun. It would be interesting to know where you'd draw the line.
                  The clear presence of a constant an unwavering demand is quite at odds with your opinion that people shouldn't be allowed to have safe activities between consenting parties, but only if there is cash on the table... who appointed you dictator?

                  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 08 2016, @06:20AM

                    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 08 2016, @06:20AM (#399057)

                    Francis consistently opposes the right to control your own body if there's even the slightest chance of indirect harm or mishap. This same logic is not applied elsewhere, of course. It's no surprise he would resort to the ridiculous 'You don't need to do X!' argument.

                • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday September 08 2016, @02:51AM

                  by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday September 08 2016, @02:51AM (#398987) Journal

                  There's plenty of legitimate reasons for people to use cryptography and none for allowing people to pay for sex.

                  Except, of course, that they want sex enough to pay for it and paying for sex is a victimless crime. That's reason enough.

                • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 08 2016, @06:17AM

                  by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 08 2016, @06:17AM (#399054)

                  Even if you disagree with the analogy, there is no straw man there. Fallacy fail.

                • (Score: 2) by CirclesInSand on Thursday September 08 2016, @06:46AM

                  by CirclesInSand (2899) on Thursday September 08 2016, @06:46AM (#399068)

                  And absolutely no reason to allow ... profiting off other people's prostitution.

                  Really? You are deciding on behalf of everyone else that prostitutes don't need bodyguards, or accountants, or agents? Do you have any advice on which direction we should all face when we pray?

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:54PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:54PM (#398864)

              Personally I'm baffled by this. Are voluntary prostitutes not allowed to leave? How does that work? Do they just sign away years of their life or something?

              • (Score: 2, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @09:39PM

                by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @09:39PM (#398879)

                It's one of those feminist laws, essentially anything the woman does is sanctified and righteous and anything the man does is evil.

            • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Wednesday September 07 2016, @09:54PM

              by JNCF (4317) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @09:54PM (#398890) Journal

              Sweden has probably the best model. Selling sex is legal, but buying, pimping and trafficking are illegal.

              That seems like an odd double standard. Setting aside the pimping and trafficking, this is like making drugs legal to sell but not legal to buy. If the voluntary transaction is heinous enough that society decides the government needs to swoop in and save the day, why should only one party be held responsible?

              Of course in the real world we punish drug dealers much harsher than users -- also a double standard, but in the opposite direction.

              • (Score: 1, Disagree) by Francis on Wednesday September 07 2016, @11:41PM

                by Francis (5544) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @11:41PM (#398917)

                the point of it it's that the harm is to the prostitutes and so they get the protection when they need it. There's no compelling reason for prostitution to be legal, but human trafficking and sex tourism are significant problems.

                • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Thursday September 08 2016, @03:36AM

                  by JNCF (4317) on Thursday September 08 2016, @03:36AM (#399003) Journal

                  Ah, so sellers can seek protection from the law but buyers can't. Interesting economy.

                  There's no compelling reason for prostitution to be legal,

                  And an interesting standard for legality. Is there any compelling reason for cotton candy to be legal? Is this even the question we generally ask?

      • (Score: 2) by Joe Desertrat on Thursday September 08 2016, @08:53PM

        by Joe Desertrat (2454) on Thursday September 08 2016, @08:53PM (#399352)

        Ah the myth of the independent self employed sex worker raises its head again.

        I would not be surprised to hear they are inflating their statistics by including online dating sites as well.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:50PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:50PM (#398799)

      simply redefine prostitution in such a way that nearly all prostitution qualifies as sex trafficking

      They already did.

      The DOJ has forbid all members (hehe... members) from procuring the services of a prostitute to combat sex trafficking. It was a weird pronouncement in that it didn't specify procuring sex, and it apparently made no distinction to areas where prostitution is legal.

      Penalties were immediate termination and possible legal action.

      Don't get me wrong, I in no part support sex trafficking (duh), but it was so vague that nearly anyone could be dismissed and prosecuted.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:21PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:21PM (#398766)

    I've never heard of the site before - it seems to be a clone of Craigslist.

    [Backpage] prohibits illegal services including prostitution and users must agree to these terms before posting on the site.

    [...] Backpage says that it blocks about a million ads per month, mostly suspected of child sex trafficking or prostitution. Of those, they report around 400 ads a month to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children which in turn notify law enforcement. Content submitted to Backpage is surveyed by an automated scan for terms related to prostitution. At least one member of a team of over 100 people also oversees each entry before it is posted.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backpage [wikipedia.org]

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by WillR on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:42PM

      by WillR (2012) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:42PM (#398774)

      it seems to be a clone of Craigslist

      Yup. It's more or less a combination of the classified ads from your local alt-weekly newspaper (Backpage used to be part of the company that publishes most of those papers) and all the escorts that got kicked off of Craigslist when CL got popular.

  • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:41PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @04:41PM (#398773)

    I'm sure there aren't many congressional votes are 100% in-favor besides confirming low-level appointments, naming post offices, or giving themselves a raise.

    If there was a non-binding resolution to say the sky was blue, then some person would probably disagree (e.g. The weather in the great state of Vermont is currently cloudy, so I will vote against the resolution. Also, I've attached a rider to the bill that will require all paper used in official government activities be sourced from my home state.).

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by WalksOnDirt on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:28PM

      by WalksOnDirt (5854) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @05:28PM (#398791) Journal

      You are missing the point. Backpage is saying no to a Congressional committee. Congress can't abide that! Luckily, the Supreme Court can.

      • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Wednesday September 07 2016, @06:11PM

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday September 07 2016, @06:11PM (#398805) Homepage Journal

        It's good for spoiled children to be told "no" now and then.

        --
        Let's go Brandon!
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @07:23PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @07:23PM (#398833)

          I'm not sure where you're from, but in my neck of the woods spoiled children do not have armed criminal gangs at the ready to stick guns up the noses of the people to get them to do their bidding.

  • (Score: 2) by tfried on Wednesday September 07 2016, @07:06PM

    by tfried (5534) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @07:06PM (#398825)

    Ok, so I have no idea, what this is all about, and this does not spark my interest enough to read past the summary. But I always thought the First Amendment that was about the right to say something, not about the right to hold something secret (which is another important right, but clearly not the same). How can it be used / how is it being used against a subpoena seeking information?

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by arcz on Wednesday September 07 2016, @07:20PM

      by arcz (4501) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @07:20PM (#398832) Journal

      Last time I checked, the freedom was the "freedom of speech, and of the press" not "the freedom of speech and not the press".

      Presumably, editing would fall under "press" and would be privileged.

    • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:29PM

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:29PM (#398857) Journal

      Is the press free to have its own editorial policies on which ads it will accept and which it will not?

      Can congress critters meddle or even demand documents about the policies of a publication regarding its advertising?

      If a publication is attracting ads for things that are and should be illegal, then use the publication as a way to find the advertisers. It is the actual advertisers doing the crime.

      Sadly, police work is not always easy when you don't (yet) have a police state.

      --
      In order to make Halloween scary this year, children are ordered NOT to wear masks.
    • (Score: 2) by Entropy on Wednesday September 07 2016, @09:49PM

      by Entropy (4228) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @09:49PM (#398885)

      Perhaps they are saying "You can find a hooker over there."

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:11PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 07 2016, @08:11PM (#398850)

    Since they already handed over a LOT of documentation my guess is that they don't really bother to screen their ads for sex workers. It is very difficult to do without impacting legitimate ads.

    Another possibility, they don't want their algorithm outed since that would allow people to craft workarounds. "Just avoid these words / phrases and you're golden"

  • (Score: 2) by mendax on Wednesday September 07 2016, @09:20PM

    by mendax (2840) on Wednesday September 07 2016, @09:20PM (#398870)

    The link is no good. However, Ars has an article [arstechnica.com] on the subject.

    BTW, it's good that Roberts has shown himself once again to be nothing more than a right-wing shill.

    --
    It's really quite a simple choice: Life, Death, or Los Angeles.
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Joe Desertrat on Thursday September 08 2016, @08:59PM

      by Joe Desertrat (2454) on Thursday September 08 2016, @08:59PM (#399353)

      BTW, it's good that Roberts has shown himself once again to be nothing more than a right-wing shill.

      I'm curious, can you explain how in this case he is being a right wing shill?

      • (Score: 2) by mendax on Thursday September 08 2016, @09:55PM

        by mendax (2840) on Thursday September 08 2016, @09:55PM (#399376)

        I can explain. I apparently was having a bad day yesterday and neglected to negate that sentence. Mea culpa.

        --
        It's really quite a simple choice: Life, Death, or Los Angeles.