Backpage.com founders, five others indicted on prostitution-related charges

Apr 12, 2018, 00:08
Backpage.com founders, five others indicted on prostitution-related charges

We learned last week that the U.S. government seized the classified website Backpage.com, shut it down completely, and replaced the front page with a disclaimer where it posted the announcement.

A screenshot taken Monday morning of a Backpage.com home page. Included in the list of victims were children as young as 14 years old.

In January 2017, the site shuttered its "adult services listings" section under mounting criticism from law enforcement groups and senators.

"Many illicit massage parlors are listed on Backpage and similar sites". In 2013, about $112 million in revenue was generated through the site, and over $134 million was garnered in 2014. More than 90 percent of the earnings came from adult ads, the California Department of Justice found. The indictment says Lacey and Larkin purportedly sold their interest in Backpage.com in 2015, though they have retained control over the site.

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A Justice Department official said the defendants engaged in a "consistent and concerted effort" to host prostitution-related ads.

The notice says the department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section is among the agencies "participating in and supporting action", apart from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the law enforcement wings of the U.S. Postal Service and the Internal Revenue Service. John McCain (R-Ariz.), representing the state where Backpage was based, said the action against the company and its principals is "an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking".

Lacey and Larkin were arrested in Arizona by then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office in 2007 for publishing information about a secret grand jury subpoena demanding information on its stories and online readers. Some courts have ruled that editing content removes the protections of the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites that post user content. That law protects internet platform providers from being held legally liable for what others post on their websites.

Critics of the bill, which passed with overwhelming support last month and is awaiting the president's signature, say it could harm First Amendment rights and online sex workers.

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If Backpage truly was a party to child sex trafficking, there should be no question that the website needed to be shut down.

A previous version of the law contained a far more reasonable, strategic, approach, barring sites from being operated "with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person". Due to the shady nature of the company, credit card companies such as Visa and MasterCard stopped authorizing payments to the site, forcing it to begin a range of money-laundering activities to convert customer funds.

According to the indictment, a Backpage training document instructed staff to send emergency alerts to NCMEC only when parents complained that a child was being trafficked on the site. A Senate report issued past year said that Backpage ran sites for 943 locations in 97 countries and 17 languages.

On Friday, McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor, hailed the federal seizure of the website as "great news" but also called it "long overdue".

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