If you solicit money from someone, you will be jailed for no less than ten years under this proposal – even if no sexual favors are involved!
Washington, DC – Thinking about messaging men for money via text or Facebook Messenger? That will cost you your freedom for a very long time, ladies.
Under a new amendment Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced Monday evening, anyone who messages to solicit money for any reason from another person would be sent to a federal jail for ten years or more.
While Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s post notes that this proposal is about messages that lead to an act of prostitution, Goodlatte’s proposal goes far beyond that. It even criminalizes the simple act of planning a date using digital means.
Mobile network operators – AT&T Mobility, Cricket, MetroPCS, Page Plus, Sprint, T-Mobile, Tracfone Wireless (including Straight Talk and Net 10), US Cellular and Verizon Wireless – would be given a huge incentive to track your text messages and give your messages to government agents. Digital platforms would be given the same incentives to do likewise.
The amendment was offered as a companion to House Resolution 1865, introduced by Ann Wagner (R-Mo.). Both measures, which would repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 outright, will be considered at any moment.
The underlying bill, which has 171 co-sponsors from both parties, would repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and would open digital platforms to criminal and civil liability not just for future sex crimes that result from user posts or interactions but also for past harms brokered by the platforms in some way. So platforms that followed previous federal laws (which encouraged less content moderation in order to avoid liability) would now be especially vulnerable to charges and lawsuits.
Under current law, only the federal government has the authority to bring charges against mobile network operators, mobile apps and web services as much of the user-generated content (which is more heavily regulated under state laws) conflicts with the more lenient federal laws. If HR 1865 passes, it would allow for states to prosecute anyone, including web services and their third-party content creators, for monetary solicitation. No exceptions would be made under the proposal, which would make innocuous messages like one my longtime friend sent to a dude on Messenger on Sunday night a federal offense.
The underlying bill would repeal and replace Section 230 with a new federal crime of benefitting from participation in a venture engaged in the exchanges of money for any purpose, and makes it easy to hold all sorts of web platforms and publishers in violation.
Any “provider of an interactive service” who hosts user-posted information with reckless disregard that the information provided…is in furtherance of sex trafficking (or any exchange of money for any reason) or an attempt to commit such an offense could face a fine and up to 20 years in prison, the bill states. And nothing “shall be construed to require the Federal Government in a prosecution, or a plaintiff in a civil action, to prove any intent on the part of the information content provider.”
What that means is that my friend’s message to a man on Sunday night after promising to go through with her plans the previous night would nab Facebook on a federal charge under HR 1865.
And that’s not all. Her message would also get her prosecuted (if the dude lives in another state) and she could be jailed for 10 if Goodlatte’s amendment is approved as a companion to HR 1865. The Goodlatte amendment significantly expands on the Mann Act. Currently, the Mann Act only criminalizes sex work if the sex worker is a passenger in a vehicle and is being transported across state lines. Goodlatte’s amendment would expand significantly on that, declaring that whoever uses or operates a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce or attempts to do so with the intent to exchange money for any reason would be subject to being jailed for ten years. The amendment additionally declares that anyone that “solicits or demands money from 5 or more persons” or “acts in reckless disregard of the fact that any monetary exchanges are in fact contributing to sex trafficking” could face a fine and up to 25 years of imprisonment.
Had my friend solicited money from at least five men who lives outside of South Carolina, she’d be facing 25 years in federal prison. And that proposal, if it becomes law, would apply to any monetary exchanges between people, even if no sexual favors are involved whatsoever.
These bills, as well as the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act, are not only unconstitutional – these bills violate basic human rights. And the worst part about them? They do nothing to combat sex trafficking. All these bills do is drive dating ads further underground, making it both harder to rescue victims of sexual abuse and harder for willing adult sex workers to conduct business safely, while simultaneously enabling unscrupulous attacks on the Internet, putting an insane chill on all internet speech, and opening the way for even more government prying into everyone’s digital lives, even on feature phones.