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"FOSTA gives prosecutors the tools they need," said Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., the chief sponsor of the bill, "to ensure that no online business can ever approach the size of Backpage again." Civil liberties advocates attacked the bill as too broad, creating new liability for websites that had previously been protected by the Communications Decency Act for content posted by third parties. A number of websites, including Craigslist, began shutting down sections that might be construed as sex-related after the bill passed the Senate last month, and Wagner said online sex-related advertising revenue had declined 87 percent in the last 60 days, roughly when her bill passed the House. Advocates for sex workers also criticized the bill as depriving them of a safe place to screen customers, as well as removing a tool for law enforcement to track pimps, locate missing children and build criminal cases. "Shutting down every service provider and website will not end sex trafficking," said Jean Bruggeman, executive director of Freedom Network USA, a coalition of anti-trafficking advocates. "What it will do is push traffickers to overseas websites that are beyond the reach of law enforcement, making it harder to prosecute them and harder to find them through the victims." But the horror stories emerging from websites such as Backpage, in which young girls were trafficked for months or even years, created a mounting tide of frustration that the websites couldn't be forced to stop hosting the ads and that the victims couldn't sue the sites for damages. The federal indictment of Backpage officials unsealed Monday described one girl who was prostituted on Backpage from ages 14 to 19, saying she was gang-raped, choked to the point of seizures and forced to perform sex acts at gunpoint. The Communications Decency Act, often credited with creating an environment of free speech which enabled the Internet to flourish, was successfully invoked by Backpage and others in claiming they were merely hosting questionable content, not creating it. Criminal cases in California and civil cases in many states were dismissed by judges who said the intent of the act was to protect the website hosts, and they invited Congress to change the law. Congress accepted the invitation. First, the Senate investigations subcommittee launched a detailed investigation of Backpage, eventually extracting millions of documents from the company which showed that Backpage was raking in more than $100 million in annual profit in recent years, and then finding that Backpage was in fact involved in its advertisers' content.
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