Talk about scary. Reason.com’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown‘s recent report on two bills that the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent on September 11 makes The Walking Dead seem like the Captain Underpants movie by comparison.
Brown calls out both bills — the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and the Abolish Human Trafficking Act — for undermining civil liberties and expanding police powers in the name of fighting the world’s oldest profession, known variously these days as “human trafficking” or “sex trafficking,” though in reality federal law describes those crimes as being the result of force, fraud, or coercion or involving a minor. Both bills have been sent along to the House of Representatives.
Prostitution between consenting adults? Brown argues that the feds now consider such transactions to be “a form of gender based violence,” and will focus more resources on “arresting and prosecuting buyers of commercial sex.” That might sound fine if you’re a colossal prude like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but as Brown observes, the language in both bills is broad enough to ensnare those who just happen to associate with prostitutes, making them, along with sex workers and their clients, subject to wiretapping by authorities.
Of the TVPA, Brown writes:
Introduced by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the bill (S.1312) gives the attorney general power to file a civil suit against anyone suspected of committing or planning to commit “any action that constitutes or will constitute” a violation of various federal statutes. If a court agrees, the person or entity would have to stop whatever activity allegedly contributed to a current or future crime.
This is power above that of normal police and criminal law proceedings. It could allow the feds to preemptively shut down websites, search engines, social apps, browsers, encryption services, or brick-and-mortar businesses because criminals (broadly defined) might communicate there.
The power applies to suspected violations of the Mann Act (which prohibits driving adult sex workers across state lines, among other things), federal conspiracy statutes, and U.S. criminal-code sections 77 and 110. This is a massive category of offenses including everything from forced labor and sex trafficking to using misleading words, images or domain names to get someone to view obscenity, sexting with a minor (even if one is a minor), enticing someone to cross state lines for illicit-sex purposes, harboring an undocumented immigrant in a place of prostitution, publishing any details about a minor that are used in furtherance of a sex offense, unlawful conduct with immigration documents for work or sex purposes, or attempting or conspiring to commit any of the above.
If you don’t already follow Elizabeth Nolan Brown on Twitter, you ought to. Click the link below to read her article on the two bills in its entirety: