In Reversal, Tech Companies Back Sex Trafficking Bill

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After weeks of negotiating over details, an internet lobbying group announced on Friday that it had ended its battle to squash the bill.

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Senator Rob Portman, a co-author of the sex trafficking legislation, said he was pleased with the recent changes to the bill.

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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The bill “will grant victims the ability to secure the justice they deserve, allow internet platforms to continue their work combating human trafficking, and protect good actors in the ecosystem,” said Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association.

Congressional aides said the internet companies had been invited to weigh in on the bill before it was introduced in August, but they declined. The companies then forcefully came out in opposition, warning that it would expose web companies to numerous lawsuits because the actions of users were hard to police.

Lawmakers said the new bill contained modest changes that clarified that state law enforcement officials would have to use federal law as their basis of suits, one of the final sticking points for the companies. And the new draft contained language that only websites that knowingly assisted and supported sex trafficking would be targeted.

“This important bill will hold online sex traffickers accountable and help give trafficking survivors the justice they deserve,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, who was a co-author of the bill with Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.

The bill amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, established in 1996, that protects online companies from liability over content they hosted on their sites. Companies say that law has allowed internet services like Google and Facebook to thrive.

But with broad support, legislators said some smaller companies had hidden behind Section 230.

“Removing the unwarranted shield from legal responsibility will save countless children from horrific tragedy, both physical and emotional,” Mr. Blumenthal said.

Consumer advocates said that the law put the big companies on notice as well.

“This is a chink in the Teflon of Google and Facebook’s shield of immunity,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

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