Sex website loses bid to claim freedom of press shield against Congress
Friday, September 2, 2016
Backpage.com, one of the Internet’s largest sex-service websites, lost its bid Friday to claim protection under the First Amendment when a federal appeals court ruled the company must turn over internal files to Congress.
Senate investigators have been looking into whether Backpage does enough to screen out human trafficking victims, but company CEO Carl Ferrer has fought a subpoena, arguing he and his fellow employees are protected under the Constitution as online publishers.
First a lower judge rejected that and on Friday the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied a stay. Backpage now has 10 days to turn over the emails and other documents sought by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
“Today’s ruling is a major step forward in our efforts to stop the scourge of online human trafficking and stand up for its thousands of innocent victims across the United States,” said Sen. Rob Portman, chairman of the subcommittee.
Backpage declined to comment on the ruling Friday.
The company says it does what it can to weed out illegal ads, but it does not have a specific policy for how employees are to do that. Instead, employees make their own judgments, the company told the court — adding that it would be burdensome to have to produce emails from each of them.