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posted by janrinok on Sunday October 09 2016, @01:56AM   Printer-friendly
from the now-prove-it dept.

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."

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by takyon on Sunday October 09 2016, @02:10AM

    by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Sunday October 09 2016, @02:10AM (#411894) Journal

    AnonTechie [] submission []

    edinlinux [] commentary []:

    Carl Ferrer, the CEO of (an online classified similar to craigslist that also has an 'adult' section in addition to the usual sections for apartment rentals, car sales..etc) was arrested yesterday by California (though he lives in Texas) and extradited for violating California "pimping" laws. The CA attorney general accuses his web site of harboring escorts as well as sex and child traffickers.

    It is an interesting case as the CEO does not live in California (nor is it clear that he has ever been there), and that as the owner of the site he is being held responsible for online postings made by users (rather than the police going after and arresting the actual traffickers themselves in California).

    From the point of view of press freedoms, this would seem to have interesting implications.

    In the case of the consenting untrafficked adult escorts, it is not clear why that should be illegal anyways.. the best way to get rid of trafficking would be to just make prostitution legal like it is in lots of other countries.. tax it, regulate it and go after traffickers when that specifically comes up (which would be pretty rare once the industry is in a legal regulated environment). Same as the approach now being taken with pot legalization and consenting adults.

    Let's see the Electronic Frontier Foundation get involved in this one. Pretty please?

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  • (Score: 1, Disagree) by Francis on Sunday October 09 2016, @04:48AM

    by Francis (5544) on Sunday October 09 2016, @04:48AM (#411937)

    Why? This is exactly the kind of case that the EFF shouldn't be getting involved with.

    He's being charged in CA because his service does business in CA. He'd be charged in VT or WY if he did things there that the authorities believed violated those respective laws.

    And no, the best way would not be to make prostitution legal. That would just make it trivial for them to hide in broad daylight. If we're serious about fighting trafficking, the correct thing to do is to go after the people who pay for prostitutes and to go after the people who profit off of other people prostituting themselves.

    • (Score: 5, Informative) by takyon on Sunday October 09 2016, @05:04AM

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Sunday October 09 2016, @05:04AM (#411941) Journal

      It's a digital liberty case. They are being blamed for crimes linked to user-submitted content.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by bradley13 on Sunday October 09 2016, @11:58AM

      by bradley13 (3053) on Sunday October 09 2016, @11:58AM (#412033) Homepage Journal

      And no, the best way would not be to make prostitution legal. That would just make it trivial for them to hide in broad daylight.

      That makes no sense. That's like the Prohibition: in order to prevent drunkenness and to generally improve morality, they made alcohol illegal. The result was utterly counterproductive. In many cities there were more "Speakeasies" during Prohibition than legal bars before or after. Alcohol, being unregulated, became more dangerous - an illegal distillery doesn't care so much if its product contains methanol.

      It's exactly the same for prostitution: If it's illegal, then the people running brothels don't particularly care if they break yet another law by trafficking. Legalize it, and the majority of the people in the industry will make an effort to stay on the right side of the law. This makes it easier to focus enforcement efforts on the genuine crimes.

      Finally: private activities between consenting adults are the business of exactly no one else. First, remember the sodomy laws? [] Do you really want the government regulating your sex life? Second, where exactly do you draw the line in prostitution? If you buy a woman dinner, and she sleeps with you? What if you're paying an escort to accompany you to dinner, but she doesn't sleep with you? What's legal, what's illegal, and why do you trust the police and "tough on crime" prosecutors to make that distinction?

      Everyone is somebody else's weirdo.
  • (Score: 2) by butthurt on Sunday October 09 2016, @04:25PM

    by butthurt (6141) on Sunday October 09 2016, @04:25PM (#412099) Journal

    A difference from Craigslist is that takes payment for at least some personals ads. []