Techdirt Update on California’s Pursuit of Backpage and the Looming SESTA Threat

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Above: U.S. Senator (and former California Attorney General) Kamala Harris

Unlike the vast majority of news coverage surrounding the latest decision out of Sacramento in the Backpage.com case, Techdirt cut through the media manure and summed up the California Attorney General’s prosecution for what it is and always has been: a flawed reboot of Kamala Harris’s initial failed attempt to vilify the online classified giant for the alleged behavior of its users.

Late last year, we wrote about ridiculous charges by California’s then Attorney General, Kamala Harris, against Backpage.com for “pimping.” As we pointed out at the time, Harris clearly knew the case was a loser. It completely exaggerated what Backpage had done, and Harris herself had earlier admitted that she had no authority to go after an internet platform for how people used it. A judge quickly threw out the charges against Backpage… and Harris turned around and filed even more charges against Backpage’s execs, including repeating the pimping charge and adding in “money laundering.”

As we noted at the time, the money laundering charges seemed pretty questionable. It’s based on the fact that Backpage had set up a separate (and separately named operation) to handle billing. The complaint argues that this was a form of money laundering, to hide from credit card companies that the money was being spent on prostitution. That leaves out, of course, that part of the reason why Backpage likely had to set up such a structure was because Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart had threatened credit card companies if they didn’t stop working with Backpage — a move that was later deemed to be a clear First Amendment violation against the company by Sheriff Dart.

In a new ruling in the case in California, the court has thrown out nearly all of the charges — including the “pimping” charges that were already previously thrown out. But they are allowing the money laundering charge to go forward — though it does appear the court recognizes that the state will have a hard time winning its case.

Authored by the tech site’s editor, Mike Masnick, the post goes on to draw a line from the California case to the ”Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017”, a.k.a. SESTA — the U.S. Senate’s pending amendment to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act — which would allow states and individuals to go after companies like Backpage (or Facebook, or Twitter) for infractions committed by their users.

The piece ought to be required reading for anyone concerned with freedom of speech and U.S. government overreach in the tech arena.

Click the link below to read Masnick’s article in its entirety:

California Case Against Backpage Moves Forward Over Money Laundering Claims

About Tom Finkel

Skeptical about nearly everything but my rights and responsibilities. Former editor-in-chief at Village Voice, Riverfront Times, & City Pages. Before that, Miami New Times. Interested human being.