Backpage.com's Challenge to Sex Trafficking Law Tossed

The Internet Law Resource Center™ is the complete information solution for practitioners in cyberlaw. Follow the latest developments on ICANN’s gTLD program, keyword advertising, online privacy,...

By Alexis Kramer

Oct. 24 — Online classified ad site Backpage.com LLC can't pursue a First Amendment challenge to a federal criminal ban on the advertising of sex trafficking, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held Oct. 24 ( Backpage.com LLC v. Lynch, 2016 BL 352814, D.D.C., No. Civil Action No. 15-2155 (RBW), 10/24/16 ).

Backpage lacks standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution because the law doesn't cover Backpage's intended conduct of hosting third-party adult ads, Judge Reggie B. Walton said in dismissing the case.

Backpage filed suit against U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch over a provision in federal law that added the word “advertises” to an existing federal criminal prohibition on sex trafficking. That change was enacted in May 2015 as part of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (20 ECLR 830, 6/10/15).

The legislation only targets ads for illegal sex trafficking, which don't amount to protected speech, the court said. Backpage hasn't argued that it will knowingly host these types of ads, and even if it did it “could not argue that such speech is arguably affected with a constitutional interest,” the court said.

The court also said that while “it may be true that some congressional members had Backpage.com in mind” when enacting the 2015 law, the statute is “aimed” at individuals who knowingly advertise or benefit from advertising sex trafficking.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Kramer in Washington at akramer@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

Full text at http://src.bna.com/jAA.

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.