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Feds Seize Control of Backpage.com; Founder Faces 93-Count Indictment

Site had long been a target for sex work and sex trafficking advertisements.

Backpage.com, a site that has long been fighting with federal and state governments over online sex trafficking advertisements, was seized this afternoon by the Department of Justice.

Details are not available as yet. The Department of Justice is planning a press conference at 6 p.m. Eastern. Visitors to the site are greeted with this image:

BackpageBackpage.com

Elizabeth Nolan Brown has been warning that the newly passed so-called "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" (FOSTA) that turned online sex trafficking adds a federal crime would destroy some of the legal liability protections sites had over the content posted by third parties.

It's not clear yet that there's any relationship between the passage of FOSTA and Backpage's seizure. But it's hard to ignore the timing. Stay tuned for more. In the meantime, more on Backpage in Reason's archives here.

UPDATE (5:30 p.m. Eastern): The FBI has raided the Sedona, Arizona, home of Backpage founder Michael Lacey.

UPDATE (8:50 p.m. Eastern): The Department of Justice still has not released the charging documents but Lacey's lawyer has confirmed to The Arizona Republic that he faces a 93-count indictment, but he does not know the details. Read more here.

UPDATE (9:00 p.m. Eastern): According the a Department of Justice spokesperson, the court has ruled that the case will remained sealed this evening. We will not know tonight what the charges are.

Photo Credit: Backpage.com

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  • Timrekgrun||

    FINALLY, We thought of the children!

    (At what temperature does a website burn?)

  • Tony||

    Fahrenheit command+A delete.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Holy shit!!! Did you see your posting time?!?! 4:51 !!!! Intentional perhaps?!?!?

  • Tony||

    Wow, I'm unintentionally awesome.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Well Holy Shit squared or cubed then, I am going to have to bow in praise of yer unintentional awesomeness!!! 451, Dude, may it never happen!!!

  • Drave Robber||

    Does it ever happen otherwise?

  • SQRLSY One||

    Good question!

    All I know is, it's awesome to be awesome! Awesomeness has only been given to me rarely and fleetingly...

  • SQRLSY One||

    I do wonder when paper, pens, and pencils will be outlawed, since messages using this "tech" can be used to engage in "trafficking"...

  • CE||

    Wait'll they outlaw overt glances and buying someone a drink.

  • Longtobefree||

    Interestingly enough, when my daughter enrolled in a public high school, among the things used as examples of 'prohibited weapons' were pens and pencils.
    I asked the principal if high school students all used crayons, and which brand to buy, and got a real huffy reply.
    (Family interview required to enroll, as she was home schooled to that point.)
    She really wanted to attend the drama program, so we let her. It was a lesson she has never forgotten, those years of madness.

  • SIV||

    Now the hookers will have to post those little cards in the phone booths like they did in Merry Olde England

  • gormadoc||

    They still do that. They're called tart cards.

  • SQRLSY One||

    I tart in your general direction!

  • SIV||

    They still have phone booths?

  • SQRLSY One||

    See me, Madame Niagra,
    Bring yer own Viagra,
    Don't make me nag ya!
    Baby, I'm fixin' ta nab ya!
    And bring yer own condom,
    Lest they say that we spawned 'em!
    And lemme just add...
    Lest ye should be sad...
    I need NOOO Pimp Daddy!
    'Cause I'm a big, mean Baddy!
    My name is Niagra, so don't get too hot,
    No worries about how to find my wet spot!

  • Eidde||

    Putin gave Trump that same business card.

    /totally a joke

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Oh, great. Hookers now have to advertise via handwritten notes left in public places? Who is gonna be able to read their chicken scratch?

  • Eidde||

    Will this be like the IRS taking over the Mustang Ranch?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    BAN IT

  • BYODB||

    Finally, all those women can be told what they're allowed to do with their bodies!

  • CE||

    And they'll be totally safer with a pimp to protect them....

  • Longtobefree||

    It's not like they have any choice, is it?

  • ||

    Well, they had to make up for not prosecuting Hillary over sensitive security documents and dropping the ball with Cruz, right?

    When all else fails blame hookers and Jews.

  • Timrekgrun||

    What about Hebrew Hookers? Do they count double and, more importantly, are the kosher?

  • BYODB||

    Jewish hookers hardest hit?

  • Echospinner||

    They seized JDate??

  • ||

    Anyone else surprised (not surprised) that the USPS has or is capable of 'enforcement action'?

    Considering some of the interactions I've had with the postal service, I must say that's pretty fucked up.

  • BYODB||

    Every agency has their own thug squad, although there's probably at least a little truth that the post office might have needed one sometime between the 1700's and early 1900's.

  • DenverJ||

    I was actually "invited" to a "discussion" once upon a time concerning mail fraud, the SEC, and a "gentleman" that I was working for/with.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Look on Wordpress for the text of the Comstock laws that weaponized the USPS to ban birth control in the crash and depression years of 1872-3.

  • Christophe||

    Government must maintain a monopoly on fucking the people. Film at 11.

  • The Heresiarch||

    Perhaps I'm naive in the world of hookerdom, but why can't escorts/Johns use a website with servers outside the U.S., in one of the many countries where prostitution is legal or tolerated? It's not like U.S. authorities can issue arrest warrants in Germany and seize servers there.

  • StackOfCoins||

    Well, you would think. But really who knows.

    What a time to be an adult who has no interest in dating.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I think they can now actually.

  • Mr. Dyslexic||

  • The Heresiarch||

    Not seeing in that bill where foreign governments have to give in to American warrants.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    If you're smart, you do what the US says. Before they label you as a terrorist sympathizer.

  • Mr. Dyslexic||

    You are correct. Only if the data kept on said servers was owned or operated by US based companies.

  • Cyto||

    Tell that to Kim Dotcom and Ross Ulbricht

  • Hank Phillips||

    Yup. Good catch. Just before the Crash of 1987, the same "service pistols for Christ" mentality was busy laying the groundwork. On September 11, 1986, Congress had passed Representative Wright's drug bill. Its more peculiar features called for eradicating illicit drug crops in other countries and weakening the Freedom of Information Act so as to withhold prohibition-related information from the public. It also contained sentencing provisions, later referred to as "mandatory minimums," plus a whole slate of asset forfeiture requirements resembling those added to what history records as the Tariff act of 1930. History rhymes a lot that way...

  • Hank Phillips||

    This just in on the Germerica blog: Germans just got urged to issue an arrest warrant for Deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel over 2002 waterboarding in Thailand. It looks like two can play...

  • Chipper Jones||

    Well I guess that settles it. Backpage seized, online prostitution solicitation over and done with.

  • StackOfCoins||

    Pending a legal challenge, which will decide the extent to which FOSTA empowers the government to go after hosts like Backpage... maybe, at least on the open web. If your only defense is to make yourself untraceable, then it will force all online prostitution advertisement to the dark web.

  • MarkLastname||

    Or put hookers back out and the street, where they'll be much safer.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Who else but government can protect consenting adults from making decisions they might possibly later regret?

    Who else but government could roll back decades of feminism to deny basic agency to women?

    We are damn lucky to have such truly selfless pols and bureaucrats watching our backs (and beds) for us! Where mommy and daddy left off somewhere in our late teens, they can now continue to look after us as adults, for our own good, of course.

    In the immortal words of Nancy Pelosi: NOTHING LEFT TO CUT

  • fafalone||

    Feminism rolled itself back. Now feminism denies agency to any woman who's made a choice other women think is exploitative. Prostitution is exploitative, therefore any women who chooses it is being coerced, usually by a man, but maybe by addiction, and either way, should be barred from making such a choice. You're still thinking of the feminism that was about empowering women; it's now primarily concerned with infantalizing them and punishing men.

  • Benitacanova||

    Not quite. It's the new school feminists who call whores 'sex workers'.

  • MarkLastname||

    That's out of vogue; now they're called 'prostituted women', because it's taken for granted that someone else is doing it to them.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    And they are releasing the details at 6:00PM on a Friday. They obviously don't want people to see what they are doing.

  • BYODB||

    D'aw, you broke the code!

  • StackOfCoins||

    It's not like the media was interested in covering this anyway. Will they be now, after a weekend of drinking to excess? I doubt it.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It looks like ransomware.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Plead guilty or you will never see your data again.

  • Jerryskids||

    Is this basically asset forfeiture? They're going to seize your shit without all that nonsense about due process and proof of guilt and so on, they've got a good suspicion that somebody somewhere used the site for doing something wrong so they're seizing the website. Not that they're vindictive little shits that haven't been able to get a real case going so they're just going to fuck up some shit.

  • Juice||

    Take the websites first. Due process later.

  • Christophe||

    I think that the website seizure needs at least a judicial order, unlike regular asset forfeiture. But the goal here is to tank the company's revenue so it doesn't have money it can spend on lawyers. Expect them to also freeze the founders' accounts.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Yes. And notice the faith-based "Child Exploitation" goon squad monicker tacked onto the thing. When the feds invaded Waco they had to get the local media to insinuate the preacher was a child molester the day before child-murdering the 50 or so kids. With this new labeling, the tarbrushing has already paved the way for mass infanticide as neatly as in any public square in the Ottoman Empire. But hey, gotta have sacrifices, right?

  • Kivlor||

    At this point, what difference does it make?

    Said some federal official once.

  • jmlandry||

    YouTube censorship.

    Backpage seized.

    Unconstitutional local gun laws.

    No fly zone on the moon.

    Beam me up, Someone!

  • Eidde||

    Sorry, it's a no beam up zone.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Beaming is clearly trafficking for anal probes.

  • Christophe||

    In NASA's defense they don't claim their guidelines actually have force of law.

  • jmlandry||

    There is no defense totalitarian behavior.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    The FBI has raided the Sedona, Arizona

    Sedona is too nice to be disrupted with all of this bullshit.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Does the FBI use pink jeeps to conduct raids in Sedona?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I assume they want to be inconspicuous.

  • Get lit||

    Fly that American flag baby! USA, USA, USA!

  • Eidde||

    I suppose it would be unpatriotic to disagree with that sentiment, but what is the tie-in to this story?

  • Longtobefree||

    Are you claiming that there should be some relationship (unpaid of course) between the article and the comments?
    Crazy talk!

  • Get lit||

    I wanted you to think about this injustice the next time you see a crowd extolling the virtue of USA.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    From the linked article: "The site even gave the third party posters a chance to rephrase their ads so they wouldn't be flagged for child sex trafficking. Some of the terms Backpage.com admins told posters not to use include "Lolita," young, teenager and even "Amber Alert." "

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't those terms frequently used to advertise for women of legal age but who look young?

    Why not just raise the age of sexual consent to 20 so that we can target that pesky "teenager" word? 18 and 19 year olds are fucking it up for everybody.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It reminds me of how Australia banned porn with women who were small chested.

  • Eidde||

    There was a need for such a ban?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Depends on how you define "need."

  • DenverJ||

    You're making that up.

  • DenverJ||

    Well I'll be:
    "Small breasts porn in Australia has not been banned, however, the actress must not be made to appear to be a child under the age of 18 years."

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Ah, I wonder if that was later modified to be less vague, or if I had just been misinformed about the original law.

  • Praveen R.||

    Kathleen Turner never looked underage!!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    They can ban narrow ass porn. I'd get behind that.

  • SIV||

    Why not just raise the age of sexual consent to 20

    I fully expect 21 to happen in my lifetime.

  • Longtobefree||

    Or admit to actual biological science, and make the age of consent the onset of menses?

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Does that mean we can shut down Reason because of all those threats made to that poor judge??

    sin,
    A drooling Preet

  • Cyto||

    The fact that the FBI raided the personal residence of the founder means that they are looking to get a scalp by any means necessary. It isn't like they sincerely believe that the smoking gun in the form of a memo that says "I'm a sex trafficker" is going to be found in the safe in his home office.

    They are looking to intimidate, harass and ultimately manufacture a crime if they need to. They'll be looking for ways to get him on tax evasion, or they'll call transfers overseas "money laundering". They've decided that he's going down.... so they'll get him. They'll probably be seizing all of his financial assets soon, to circumscribe the possibility of an effective defense.

    The crusade against backpage is what it looks like when you start investigating a person in order to "get them" instead of investigating a crime. Anyone who says that "for a good time call 555-5555" is not going to be constitutionally protected speech in the USA is either an idiot or a liar.

  • CE||

    Hey, with marijuana getting legalized, cops need to crack down on something for job security.

  • Eidde||

    Murder, rape, burglary, assault, etc?

  • SIV||

    Perks of the profession.

  • Eidde||

    As in solving, not committing.

  • josh||

    My prostitutes have moved to a different site already, so the government ain't getting me!

    WINNING!!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    www.prostitutes.ca will always reign free.

  • Christophe||

    Ok, so it turns out Trump hasn't signed FOSTA-SESTA yet (from what I could gather). What the hell is the FBI thinking? They can't possibly think they'll be able to say "It was a retroactive law and so we could start arresting people ahead of it passing.", right?

  • Longtobefree||

    They will probably say "we can do it, and you can't stop us".

  • Kivlor||

    Yeah, I was thinking this hadn't been signed yet. Sadly, I don't think it matters to the FBI. Until something is done to hold LEOs (and other government officials) responsible for their actions, there will be little reason for them to stop themselves from misbehavior.

  • Ama-Gi Anarchist||

    Fuck the DOJ! Fuck Congress! Goddamn son-of-a-fucking-bitch, what part of "Congress shall make no law.." don't these asswipes understand? Someone needs to fire up the woodchippers....

  • Hank Phillips||

    Yeah! To hell with registering and casting some LP spoiler votes to change these laws...

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "what part of "Congress shall make no law.." don't these asswipes understand?"

    The declarative negative.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Well well welcome to the wonderful world of asset forfeiture and property seizure. You and Michael Lacey have the Republican and Democrat, Green, Communist, Prohibition, Tea and Consta2shun parties, and League of Non-Voters to thank. Next up, the Comstock laws of 1872-3...

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Christ, what a department of assholes.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Calling the ladies in the red robes chanting something about Handmaid's Tale...

  • Drave Robber||

    What does "BREAKING" mean in web publishing? Unclosed tags, invalid CSS and sugarfreed links?

  • Robert||

    Wouldn't it be something if service improved under the new ownership?

  • ||

    I'm commenting on Hit & Run in order to buy sex.

    Anybody got a problem with that? I'm asking you, FOSTA/SESTA!

  • ||

    93 counts. The DOJ are heroes.

    /bum taps all around.

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