Internet

WA Ends Defense of Online Sex-Censorship Law

Just a few First Amendment problems

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San Francisco—Today, Washington state officials announced that they have dropped their defense of a law aimed at combatting online sex trafficking ads by targeting Internet service providers, conceding that the statute was unconstitutional and violated federal law. After a challenge by the Internet Archive and Backpage.com, a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the law will officially go into effect when the federal district court approves the stipulations and proposed orders filed today.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and co-counsel Venkat Balasubramani represented the Internet Archive in the federal lawsuit that struck down SB 6251, a law passed by the Washington legislature in 2012 despite its obvious potential to curtail legitimate speech. For example, the vague and overbroad statute threatened to impose felony liability not only on those directly engaged in illegal acts but also on those who "indirectly" caused to be "disseminated" any "implicit" offers for commercial sex acts. That could potentially affect services that merely provide access to information, like web hosts, ISPs, or online libraries, impeding their ability to operate. Moreover, the statute directly conflicted with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230), a federal law that bars states from holding online service providers responsible for the acts of their users.