Democratic Senator Ron Wyden is desperately trying to derail a bipartisan bill to end sex-trafficking. But, despite his best effort, the legislation seems to be headed for all but certain passage early next year.
The bill, passed unanimously out of the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this week, would allow the families of the victims of sex-trafficking, as well as the states, to sue websites that sell sex from minors.
Wyden on Wednesday started maneuvering to shut down the legislation, claiming that the measure could harm start-up Internet companies, the tech economy, and innovators. He explained, “having written several laws to combat the scourge of sex trafficking, I take a backseat to no one on the urgency of fighting this horrendous crime,” he had said. “However, I continue to be deeply troubled that this bill’s approach will make it harder to catch dangerous criminals, that it will favor big tech companies at the expense of startups and that it will stifle innovation.”
Activists who support the bill are now questioning Wyden’s opposition to it and say it now has so much of support—more than around 46 sponsors in the Senate, including 17 from the Democrats—passage is all but certain.
“He’s starting to look like one of those hold-outs on an armed camp on federal land as the National Guard closes in,” said Jamie Court, President of a consumer advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog, which has strongly and consistently backed the bill along with the National Center for Sexual Exploitation and several other anti-trafficking groups.
“I don’t know why Wyden is doing it—only Wyden knows. Google certainly appears to be the last holdout among the tech companies in adopting the simple notion that there has to be some accountability when an Internet site aids and abets underage sex trafficking,” Court had said.
Employees of Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc., have donated a total of $62,725 to Wyden so far in this 2018 election cycle, making the company his seventh-highest donor, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-finance watchdog.
Wyden’s one-man hold cannot however block the legislation, but would definitely force the Senate to use up valuable floor time to debate it and pass it with a recorded vote, instead of simply by unanimous consent.
The measure’s authors say that the sex-trafficking is on the rise and point to a Senate report released late last year that had found certain sites actively policing posts – but not removing them – that used terms associated with underage girls being sold for sex.
“We look forward to the Senate passing it in an overwhelming fashion,” announced a spokesman for Senator Rob Portman – the bill’s sponsor.
Wyden has previously testified against the legislation during a Commerce committee hearing in September. Powerful Silicon Valley forces, such as Google and Facebook, oppose the measure, arguing that it erodes Internet freedom and places too much liability on websites.