Washington AG announces settlement with Backpage.com

By Bryan Cohen | Dec 11, 2012

SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) - Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna's office has reached a settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed against the state by Backpage.com.

Under the terms of the settlement announced Thursday, the state will pay Backpage $200,000 in attorney fees and will work with the state legislature to repeal SB 6251, a law meant to prevent children from being advertised online for sex. The law imposes penalties for posting sex ads featuring minors.

Earlier this year, Backpage filed a lawsuit over the passage of SB 6251, naming county prosecutors and the state in the suit. In July. U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo S. Martinez issued a decision that granted Backpage's preliminary injunction against SB 6251.

"We disagree with Judge Martinez," McKenna said. "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. It is unfortunate that because of this ruling, Backpage will continue to profit from sex ads for kids and others. Congress must revisit the CDA in order to close a loophole that allows companies such as Backpage to make millions advertising an illegal service that takes a particularly devastating toll on children."

Passed in 1996, the Communications Decency Act was meant to respond to fears about internet service provider liability for defamatory statements made by their users. In 2011, McKenna rallied other state attorneys general to pressure Backpage to stop trafficking kids and others on the site.

"In 1996, federal lawmakers passed the CDA in order to make the Internet a forum for ideas, while also protecting kids from crimes such as child pornography," Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said. "But they never intended to enable websites to generate millions in profits by promoting prostitution, particularly when we know that a portion of that profit comes from advertising kids for sex."

Ultimately, all 50 states joined the effort against Backpage and the site's parent company, Village Voice Media, cut ties with Backpage. Despite petition drives and protests, Backpage continues to operate.

"Indiana learned from hosting the 2012 Super Bowl that trafficking of humans for prostitution is a horrendous crime that is enabled and amplified by online adult classified sites such as Backpage," Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said. "The urgency of the problem led Indiana to pass a new human trafficking law in record time. We share the concerns of our fellow attorneys general in urging Congress to address on a consistent national basis this complicated issue of Internet businesses that facilitate human trafficking."

Backpage charges a minimum of $5 to post ads for prostitutes and has been criticized for a large number of children found to be advertised for sex on the site. Local and federal law enforcement officials identified hundreds of children advertising for sex on the site.

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