21st Century Fox Backs Sex Trafficking Bill Opposed by Major Internet Firms

WASHINGTON — 21st Century Fox threw its support behind legislation to revise telecommunication law to ensure that it does not shield websites that promote or advertise sex trafficking.

Major internet companies oppose the legislation, called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, arguing that even though they support its intent, it is too broadly written. The bill creates new legal liability for Internet companies whose sites “knowingly facilitate” sex trafficking through content on their platforms.

But 21st Century Fox expressed its support in a letter to co-sponsors Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

“As a global multi-media company that provides consumers the world over with groundbreaking news, sports and entertainment programming, we have a vested interest in a strong and vibrant internet ecosystem that promotes free speech and the equal exchange of ideas,” wrote Chip Smith, Fox’s executive vice president of global public affairs. “At the same time, we believe that everyone that does business in this medium has a civic responsibility to help stem illicit and illegal activity. While it is impossible to formulate laws to govern every possible situation, your legislation is a rational and measured effort to deal with a tragic and pernicious problem that is global in scope.”

The move is significant in that major Hollywood studios long have pressed Google and other major internet companies to take greater steps to monitor their websites to root out piracy. In his letter, Smith dismissed concerns that the legislation would be an overreach.

“It is unfortunate and alarming that critics of your bill would resort to hyperbole and scare tactics, arguing that passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act will signal the demise of free speech and innovation on the internet,” he wrote. “Thankfully, those critics, influential as they may be, do not speak for the entire internet community.”

At the time the legislation was introduced last month, The Internet Association, which represents companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, said the legislation “is overly broad and will be counterproductive in the fight to combat human trafficking.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has generally shielded internet firms from civil and state criminal liability for content posted by users, but their Washington lobby fears that the legislation would diminish those protections. Internet firms also say that it is already possible under current law for authorities to prosecute those who engage in online sex trafficking.

The Internet Association also argued that the legislation “would create a new wave of frivolous and unpredictable actions against legitimate companies rather than addressing underlying criminal behavior.”

“Furthermore, it will impose new, substantial liability risks for companies that take proactive measures to prevent trafficking online, hampering the ability of websites to fight illegal activity. The bill also jeopardizes bedrock principles of a free and open internet, with serious economic and speech implications well beyond its intended scope.”

The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation on Tuesday.

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