Maloney Joins Wagner, Other Members to Call on USTR To Protect Sex Trafficking Victims in NAFTA Negotiations

Oct 12, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC - Following President Trump’s meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and in light of the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) joined Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO), Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (D-OH), and Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) on a joint letter to United States Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer raising concerns about the Computer & Communications Industry Association’s and Internet Association’s comments recommending that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act be added to a revised NAFTA. The letter called on Ambassador Lighthizer to protect sex trafficking victims and heed the ongoing congressional process with respect to Section 230. 

“As you discuss recommendations from stakeholders, we would like to raise an issue that gives us tremendous cause for concern. It has come to our attention that the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and the Internet Association have submitted comments recommending that the language of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S. Code§ 230, be added to a revised NAFTA. This finding is deeply disturbing to the many members of the House who are currently working to amend Section 230,” states the joint letter.  “Furthermore, including Section 230 in NAFTA in its current form would export a destructive legal battle that will harm sex trafficking victims advertised in Mexico and Canada. Given that Mexico may be the largest source country for sex trafficking victims in the United States, and that Mexico is ranked as a Tier 2 country on the U.S. State Department's Trafficking in Persons report, we urge you to ensure that any digital trade language in NAFT A does not immunize any company from profiting from the commercialization of sex trafficking, at home or abroad. The United States is a leader in the fight against modem-day slavery, and it would be devastating to set such a harmful example by including Section 230 in NAFTA in its present form.”  

The full text of the letter to Ambassador Lighthizer is below:

Dear Ambassador Lighthizer,

 We appreciate your strong leadership in promoting U.S. trade and in negotiating .revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NA.FT A) language. As you discuss recommendations from stakeholders, we would like to raise an issue that gives us tremendous cause for concern. It has come to our attention that the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and the Internet Association have submitted comments recommending that the language of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S. Code§ 230, be added to a revised NAFTA.

 This finding is deeply disturbing to the many members of the House who are currently working to amend Section 230. We are pleased to be joined by 139 of our colleagues on legislation that would address how Section 230 has been interpreted to protect websites that facilitate online sex trafficking. Like us, our colleagues understand that when Congress passed Section 230 in 1996, it never intended the provision to be used to protect sex trafficking. 

In fact, the opposite was the case. Senator James "Jim" Exon (D-Nebraska, 1979-1997), who introduced the CDA, said on the Senate floor that "the information superhighway should not become a red light district." Section 230 was written to protect websites that were acting as "good Samaritans" in removing illegal or offensive content.

 But over time, courts have applied an overly broad interpretation to Section 230 that essentially provides immunity to websites like Backpage.com that facilitate illegal sex trafficking. Last year, the First Circuit ruled that there is now a fundamental tension between Section 230 and the nation's sex trafficking laws, and that this tension can only be resolved through legislation, not litigation. Congress is eager to provide a solution to the many victims who have been denied justice due to Section 230's broad interpretation.  

Any efforts by the USTR to include the current version of Section 230 in NAFTA would undermine our legislative work to combat sex trafficking in the United States and undermine our ability to hold accountable marketplaces that facilitate this crime for financial gain. We trust you will recognize the severity of this issue and understand our concern with attempts to circumvent our nation's elected representatives by installing Section 230 in its current form into international trade agreements. 

 We urge you to heed the ongoing congressional process with respect to Section 230. Section 230 is an impo1iant tool for U.S. internet companies, but it should not be expanded to our neighbors in its current form. We would be happy to work with your office to discuss revised Section 230 language that protects victims of sex trafficking.

 As a reference, our legislation, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, along with Senate companion legislation, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, would surgically amend Section 230 to: 

  • clarify that Section 230 does not trump the nation's sex trafficking laws;
  • allow state prosecutors to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking;
  • allow victims of sex trafficking to access their private right of action.

 Section 230 already allows enforcement of all Federal criminal law and some state laws, including a carve-out for the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and similar state laws and all state and federal intellectual property laws. We hope you will agree that protecting the rights of U.S. sex trafficking victims is at least as important as protecting the intellectual property rights of industry, musicians, and others.  

Furthermore, including Section 230 in NAFTA in its current form would export a destructive legal battle that will harm sex trafficking victims advertised in Mexico and Canada. Given that Mexico may be the largest source country for sex trafficking victims in the United States, and that Mexico is ranked as a Tier 2 country on the U.S. State Department's Trafficking in Persons report, we urge you to ensure that any digital trade language in NAFT A does not immunize any company from profiting from the commercialization of sex trafficking, at home or abroad.

 The United States is a leader in the fight against modem-day slavery, and it would be devastating to set such a harmful example by including Section 230 in NAFTA in its present form.

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