Tag Archives: backpage.com

Federal Judge Blocks Enforcement of TN Law Targeting Online Sex Ads

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that a Tennessee law passed last year that targets online sex ads violates free speech rights.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/136AxGB) cited an opinion written by Judge John T. Nixon that says the law is written in a way that infringes on freedom of speech and interstate commerce laws. The purpose of the law is to protect children from sex trafficking.
The issue went to court when Backpage.com filed a lawsuit alleging the new regulation violated the First Amendment and other federal protections. Backpage.com publishes millions of ads each month, including those that sell adult services, and said it would be impossible to screen every ad posted to its site and the law hurt its business.
Nixon granted the company’s request for a temporary restraining order against the law.
Antoinette Welch, assistant district attorney in Nashville, said websites like Backpage are used in a majority of sex trafficking case prosecuted by the district attorney general’s office.
“The websites are helping to promote something illegal, and children and women are being sold on their sites,” Welch said. “They should be held responsible, fined at the very least.

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Law on Sex Ads Brings Lawsuit from Backpage.com

Backpage.com is suing Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper along with the 31 district attorneys general across the state in an effort to put the brakes on a law set to go into effect next week, according to The City Paper.
The suit — filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville on Wednesday — seeks an injunction against a looming state law that would make criminally liable any person or company selling ads involving commercial sex with anyone appearing to be a minor if they don’t make a reasonable attempt to verify the individual’s age.
Backpage claims that Tennessee Public Charter 1075 would have a chilling effect on free speech online and that it’s unconstitutional, violating the Communication Decency Act of 1996, the First and 14th amendments, and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The online classified ads company claims in the court filing that if enacted the law “would impose an intolerable burden on speech across the country.”
The law would make it illegal to sell advertisements that “would appear to a reasonable person” to include a “commercial sex act … with a minor” even if, as the suit states, “no such content is ever published or the ad does not actually concern a minor.” Any person or company found guilty of such an infraction could then be punished with up to 15 years in prison and a minimum fine of $10,000.
Furthermore, such a company would be responsible for verifying the age of anyone used in any ad via government-issued identification and would not be able to argue that it “didn’t know” a person included in a posted ad was underage.
In practice, the online ad company says the obligation of verifying the age of millions of users a year — Backpage.com claims it had 3.3 million posts in April alone — is just unfeasible. “Although its ostensible purpose — to prevent the sex trafficking of children — is laudable, the law is not,” the suit states.
Backpage.com has taken a considerable amount of heat from those protesting its use of online adult personal and escort ads that some say encourage and foster the practice of human sex trafficking.