FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 22, 2021
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BREAKING: Yesterday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report detailing how federal prosecutors have rarely used an anti-sex trafficking law, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which established criminal penalties for promoting or facilitating online prostitution and sex trafficking and introduced a carveout within Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The report says “criminal restitution has not been sought and civil damages have not been awarded” under the law, often referred to as FOSTA-SESTA. DOJ officials interviewed by the GAO for the report also said they did not bring more cases “because the law is relatively new and prosecutors have had success using other criminal statutes.”
“The GAO report confirms our worst fears: FOSTA-SESTA was a complete disaster,” said Sarah Roth-Gaudette (she/her), Executive Director, Fight for the Future. “Lives were put in danger when sex workers in the U.S. were forced to retreat into the darkest corners of the internet without visible structures for protection. And now we learn that the law has only been used once in its three-year history. Until we fully study the unintended consequences of amending Section 230, by investigating the impact of FOSTA-SESTA, we cannot pretend that uncareful changes to Section 230 will not harm the most vulnerable and marginalized members of society.”
In January 2021, Fight for the Future led a campaign to release a letter along with 70+ other human rights and social justice groups opposing repeal of or overbroad changes to Section 230 that could harm marginalized communities. Instead we endorse further efforts to study the impact of FOSTA-SESTA, including the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act, legislation from Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ro Khanna to investigate its harm done by SESTA/FOSTA. We also support strong federal data privacy legislation, robust antitrust enforcement, the restoration of net neutrality, and have called for an outright ban on surveillance-based advertising and an immediate industry-wide moratorium on non-transparent forms of algorithmic manipulation of content and newsfeeds.