Statement of Ranking Member Nadler During Markup of H.R. 1865, the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017”

Dec 12, 2017 Issues: Civil Liberties, Intellectual Property/Technology

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate that you are bringing forward legislation today to address the scourge of human trafficking.  I strongly support providing new mechanisms for federal and state prosecutors, as well as victims, to hold accountable perpetrators of online sex trafficking. 

I also recognize the need to balance these enforcement tools with respect for free speech under the First Amendment, and protection from liability for truly innocent parties that operate in the internet ecosystem.

I am concerned, however, that the substitute proposal, no matter how well-intentioned, has not been fully vetted, and it does not have sufficient support from the vast community of survivors and other advocates who have been pressing for legislation over the last several years to address this important issue. 

That is why I requested that our Committee postpone consideration of this bill to allow for a more thorough review by the stakeholder community, many of whom have had little time to review the new text. 

Unfortunately, the expansive scope of internet communication and the proliferation of devices that allow us to be connected online for many beneficial purposes also have expanded avenues for criminal victimization.  As Members heard during the recent hearing on this topic conducted by our Subcommittee on Crime, research indicates that 63% of human trafficking victims interviewed were advertised online.  And of the over 9,000 CyberTipline reports that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children receives each year, 81% relate to child sex trafficking online. 

In cracking down on this online criminal activity, we must be careful to distinguish between innocent intermediaries, who merely operate platforms for hosting third-party content online, from those who participate in the commission of crimes that are advertised on their platforms.  Out of an appropriate respect for the First Amendment, and based on the desire to safeguard the operation of the Internet, Congress has been cautious when attempting to set rules distinguishing the two.   

While it may be difficult to draw the line in the right place, particularly when we want to incentivize providers and online platforms to be more – and not less – actively engaged in preventing the posting of harmful content by sex traffickers, we cannot turn a blind eye to the appalling victimization that occurs every day, and we must find a way to do more than allowed under current law. 

The Senate Commerce Committee recently reported out bipartisan legislation that won support from a wide array of stakeholders, including survivors, law enforcement, state attorneys general, and tech companies.  A number of organizations that represent victims of online sex trafficking have written to us to state that the revised Senate bill provides a greater voice to victims, and better tools to state prosecutors to hold accountable those who engage in trafficking. 

They believe that the proposal we are considering today does not adequately provide relief for victims of trafficking, and they argue that it would continue to shield websites that facilitate trafficking from liability.  They also have concerns that they were not properly consulted in the development of this proposal.

In light of these concerns, I had hoped that we would take the time to fully compare and consider the merits of the different bills, with input from all of the relevant stakeholders, so that we could develop legislation that has broad support, particularly from the victims’ community.  I do appreciate your effort to advance this discussion, but for the forgoing reasons, I believe the bill we are considering today should be considered a contribution to the dialogue on this important issue, and not the end of the process. 

Unless the legislation is further improved and vetted through the legislative process in the House and discussions with the Senate, I may not be able to support final passage into law.

Thank you, and I yield back the balance of my time.