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Building a strong criminal defense case under the Communications Decency Act

In our last post, we mentioned some of the criticisms against a proposed amendment to the Communications Decency Act. The measure, known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, proposes to remove protections for websites where sex trafficking advertising occurs, and allows for prosecution of individuals and businesses suspected of violating the law.

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is the only section of the law that survived a court challenge following its passage years ago, providers and users of “interactive computer services” have immunity from any liability stemming from communications provided by other content providers. This essentially means that individuals are responsible for what they post. Based on this provision, websites have largely been able to avoid liability for the illegal activity of users. 

One important point about immunity under the Communications Decency, though, is that it does not apply where there has been a violation of federal criminal law. In other words, online service providers and content providers have immunity with respect to communications of other users, but not for their own illegal activity, specifically violations of federal criminal law.

For online service providers or users accused of violating federal law, then, a strong defense under the Communications Decency Act is the same as building a strong defense against the alleged violations of federal criminal law. One interesting area of Communications Decency Act litigation is aiding and abetting in the commission of human trafficking or other sex crimes. In our next post, we’ll look at a case involving this issue, and the importance of working with experienced legal counsel when facing such allegations.  

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