US Sues Loretta Lynch In Free Speech Battle

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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Classifieds website is suing the United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch claiming the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SaVE) act is unconstitutional.

The SaVE Act purports to ensure outlets don’t profit or receive advertising from those involved in prostitution – effectively making it a felony to advertise prostitution online.

Under the act, sites like Backpage are vulnerable if human traffickers and pimps post an ads for sexual services. After Craigslist, Backpage is the second largest classifieds website.

The law comes with hefty penalties for those found in violation of the statute with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Backpage and human rights groups argue the law violates freedom of speech. “If the SAVE Act were interpreted to permit criminal liability if a website receives an allegation that a post concerns sex trafficking, this would create a notice-and-takedown regime that would impermissibly chill speech,” the complainant says.

Backpage adds that supporters of the SaVE Act in Congress hoped the website would fall victim of the law, reports Courthouse News.

“Members of Congress and others have assailed for many years, despite the website’s extensive efforts to prevent, screen and block improper ads from users,” the complainant says.

Another key problem, according to its critics, is its extreme level of ambiguity, which places sites like Backpage in an impossible position when monitoring content.

“The SAVE Act does not define ‘advertises’ or ‘advertising.’ By any customary definition, ‘advertisers’ are the third parties who place advertisements, not the operators of websites or newspapers where the ads appear,” the lawsuit says.

“The SAVE Act fails to give websites, publishers and others a reasonable opportunity to know what conduct is prohibited and what is permitted.”

Backpage has already won a free speech battle with Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart, with a court instructing the sheriff to stop threatening companies like Visa and Mastercard for doing business with Backpage.

Legal Associate at the Cato Institute Randal Meyer, told The Daily Caller News Foundation the case could prove another important legal battle for free speech on the internet:

“As we saw with Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart’s persecution of, government officials have no qualms about pushing the envelope of their powers to persecute politically disfavored businesses.

Vaguely worded statutes, such as the SAVE Act, provide police with more leeway to engage in their crusades of choice. Indeed, federal district courts in Washington, Tennessee, and New Jersey have enjoined state statutes similar to the SAVE Act on First Amendment grounds. Given’s challenge to the SAVE Act, courts will again be in the position of defending speech rights against overzealous law enforcement tactics.”

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