EXCLUSIVE: Sens. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., are releasing a bill that would crack down on tech companies that allow child sexual exploitation on their platforms by stripping liability protections, permitting victims to sue and introducing penalties for those responsible.
The “Holding Sexual Predators and Online Enablers Accountable Act” would amend the U.S. code to strip Section 230 protections from tech companies that “willfully or recklessly promotes or facilitates child exploitation.”
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Section 230 of the 1934 Communications Act states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” It means that tech companies cannot be held liable for content posted by others on their sites.
It has been a target of conservatives seeking to rein in the power of Big Tech companies and hold them accountable for what goes on on their platforms. In this instance, stripping those protections would also allow victims of such exploitation to pursue civil suits against those companies.
The bill would allow fines and imprisonment for up to 25 years for anyone who owns manages or operates a platform “that promotes or facilitates the hosting or trafficking” in child abuse and exploitation. It would also increase penalties for those who themselves engage in sexual exploitation of children.
“Child abuse and exploitation are horrendous crimes that are unfortunately far too common, especially in today’s digital world,” Loeffler said in a statement. “In just the first nine months of this year, there were more than 52 million photos and videos of child abuse posted online.”
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“The Holding Sexual Predators and Online Enablers Accountable Act takes strong action to protect children and hold online platforms, including Big Tech companies, accountable for recklessly allowing child exploitation on their sites and imposes harsh penalties on those who prey on children,” she said.
The bill comes amid new attention both on the power of Big Tech companies in general, and over renewed concerns that some platform may be allowing exploitation on their platforms.
On Monday, Loeffler and Cotton introduced a resolution urging the European Union to amend its ePrivacy Directive to ensure that companies use technology to identify and target child exploitation.
Pornhub issued a series of new restrictions on user experience Tuesday as it faced backlash over an explosive report on underage sex trafficking victims being exploited on its platform — although it had described assertions that it allows child sex abuse material on its platform as “irresponsible and flagrantly untrue.”
While the site has faced scrutiny in the past, the criticism seemed to intensify after New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof detailed multiple allegations of sexual exploitation on the platform.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a staunch critic against Big Tech and proponent of children’s online safety, on Wednesday introduced the “Survivors of Human Trafficking Fight Back Act of 2020,” along with Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan and Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa.
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The bill aims to give victims of sex trafficking and rape victims the right to seek compensation in federal court if pornography websites distribute intimate photos of them without their consent – an act sometimes referred to as “revenge porn” – in an effort to fight human trafficking.
Fox News’ Sam Dorman and Audrey Conklin contributed to this report.