The Washington State Attorney General’s Office yesterday settled a lawsuit filed by sex trafficking site Backpage.com against Washington state.
In the settlement, the state will pay Backpage $200,000 in attorneys’ fees.
Backpage sued Washington over a law aimed at preventing kids from being advertised online for sex. In July, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo S. Martinez’s issued a decision granting Backpage’s preliminary injunction against SB 6251. The wording of that decision, according to Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, made it very difficult – and expensive – for the state to appeal.
Backpage, which charges a minimum of $5 to post ads for prostitutes, has been criticized for the number of children found to be advertised for sex on the site. Hundreds of such cases nationally have been identified by local and federal law-enforcement.
Earlier this year, Washington state lawmakers passed SB 6251 to protect kids by adding new penalties for posting sex ads featuring minors. The law provided a built-in defense for sites that check IDs before allowing individuals to post so-called “adult services” ads. Backpage quickly filed a lawsuit, naming county prosecutors and the state.
“We disagree with Judge Martinez,” said McKenna. “We do not believe that advertisements for a service illegal in every state – prostitution – are protected by the Constitution. That part of his decision would likely be overturned upon appeal. But unless Congress acts to revise the section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, an appeal will be extremely challenging and costly."
The Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996 in response to fears about Internet Service Provider (ISP) liability for defamatory statements made by their online users. It was intended to protect ISPs and websites from tort liability for materials posted by third parties.