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Anti-trafficking bill may move forward

The House is moving toward a floor vote on an anti-sex-trafficking package that has been a major headache for internet companies.

Our thought bubble: If it passes, the package will be the first concrete legislation to come out of a renewed "techlash" in Washington. This is the end result of a year when Facebook and Google were putting out so many fires — on Russia and tech addiction and extremist content — that they weren't able to keep this one at bay.

What's happening: A key procedural committee said it will probably set up a vote on the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA) next week.

  • The plan is to combine that bill with Senate language that weakens the longstanding immunity for internet platforms from lawsuits related to user-generated content.
  • The Senate's version is called Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA).

The big question: Will the Senate language be modified from the version that passed a committee last year to make it more favorable to the online platform companies?

  • Currently, the only potential amendment listed for the bill does not include any of those modifications.
  • The trade group Internet Association, which represents Google and Facebook, backed a version of the Senate bill last year under significant pressure from outside groups and lawmakers. It also supported the House bill, which didn't go far enough for the lawmakers leading the charge in the Senate and was seen as toothless by trafficking victims' advocates.
  • Evan Engstrom, the director of the startup advocacy group Engine, opposes the effort. "Attaching SESTA to FOSTA does not add anything that will make it easier for prosecutors to stop bad actors online,” he says.
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