WASHINGTON, January 10, 2017 – Executives of Backpage.com brought before a Senate investigative hearing on Tuesday refused to answer any lawmaker questions the company’s online classifieds, including sexually-explicit services.
The executives appearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, each asserted their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
The hearing came less than 24 hours after the subcommittee released a bipartisan report implicating the popular website in the online trafficking of minors for commercial sex acts. That report that caused the Netherlands-based company to announce it was shutting down its classified service in the United States.
As of Tuesday morning, Backpage had taken down U.S.-based listings for sexual services, replacing them with a message claiming the investigation was a form of government censorship.
At the hearing, subcommittee chairman Rob Portman, R-Ohio, strongly disagreed with Backpage’s assertion, telling the assembled executives: “That’s not censorship, that's validation of the [subcommittee's] report.”
The report was the result of a nearly two-year investigation into sex trafficking and prostitution moving “from the street corner to the smartphone” through online marketplaces such as Backpage. Portman called it “the center of this online black market.”
But despite Backpage executives’ claims that the site has been an ally in fighting child trafficking, Portman noted that the company has resisted the subcommittee’s investigation in every possible way. That resulted in a contempt citation against the company by the full Senate – the first such citation in modern history. The company was also subject to a court order compelling it to deliver millions of documents in the preparation of the report.
That report makes it clear why Backpage fought so hard against the subpoenas, said Portman. It “conclusively shows that Backpage has been more deeply complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone imagined,” he said, citing evidence from internal emails that company executives had instructed moderators to strip out terms in advertisements that could be interpreted as code for underage prostitutes.
Despite many probing questions from Portman and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, the Backpage executives and owners present — including CEO Carl Fererr, Chief Operating Officer Andrew Padilla, and former owners James Larkin and Michael Lacey — each refused to answer any questions. Even Backpage General Counsel Elizabeth McDougal declined to answer any questions, citing both the Fifth Amendment and the common law attorney-client privilege.
But Robert Corn-Revere, an attorney representing the Backpage witnesses, offered a statement for the record claiming the Subcommittee’s entire investigation “lacks a valid legislative purpose” and that the First Amendment allows Backpage to edit user-generated content and still receive protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields websites from liability for user-generated content if such sites do not edit the content.
The lack of testimony from the witnesses, however, did not deter Senators from expressing their anger at the company’s actions, often with voices raised.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, was particularly irate about Fererr’s failure to appear at a previous hearing despite being under subpoena: “If you’re so damn proud about your business model, why weren't you hear 20 months ago? We’ve got a problem in this country. We do not need people who enable pimps to buy and sell our children,” he said.
- Panelists Debate Federal Role in Digital Privacy, But Agree Upon Need to Minimize Algorithmic Bias
- FCC ‘Coloring Outside the Lines’ on Broadband Mapping, Say Critics at Next Century Cities Event
- Broadband Advocates at Next Century Cities Emphasize Importance of Building Community Networks
- Advocates for Digital Inclusion Address Different Facets of Bridging the Digital Divide
- New America Highlights the Broadband Prices Available on Ammon, Idaho’s Open Access Network
Signup for Broadband Breakfast
Open Access4 weeks ago
UTOPIA Fiber: A Model Open-Access Network
China2 months ago
Prakash Sangam: China’s Huawei Clones Are Greater Threat to National Security than Huawei
Broadband Mapping & Data3 months ago
Broadband Data From Providers Needs to be Checked With Data From Users, Say Panelists at Mapping Event
Open Access3 months ago
UTOPIA Fiber Announces Partnerships with Morgan, Utah, Idaho Falls, and Other Cities
FCC1 month ago
Telephony Industry Rises to the Challenge of Robocalls, With Legislation, Regulation and Enforcement Close Behind
Education3 months ago
State Educational Technology Officials Say Better Broadband Necessary for Pedagogy and Equity
FCC Workshops2 weeks ago
Indian Tribes Will Have Six-Month Window of Opportunity to Apply for Former EBS Spectrum at 2.5 GigaHertz
FCC2 months ago
As Next Year’s C-Band Auction Looms, FCC Officials Reflect on Innovation in Spectrum Auctions