Attorney General Asks to Amend Communication Decency Act, Allow More Efficient Enforcement

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —Attorney General Schmitt joined 46 AGs across the country this week to ask Congress, again, to amend the Communications Decency Act in order to make sure state and local authorities are able to better protect our citizens online and take appropriate action against criminal actors.

“Fighting sex trafficking and human trafficking is one of the top priorities of my office, and that means having the ability to effectively combat those practices on digital mediums as well,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “Congress must act to allow state Attorneys General to more effectively prosecute human trafficking and other illegal activities that may occur online.”

The Communication Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) was designed to encourage the growth of the internet by promoting free expression, particularly on online message boards. The Act was intended to allow companies who sponsor message boards to remain immune to repercussions from inappropriate posts, but, due to a misinterpretation of Section 230 of the Act, some federal court opinions have interpreted it so broadly that individuals and services, who knowingly aid and profit from illegal activity, have evaded prosecution.

“Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” and “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (known as FOSTA-SESTA) was signed into law in 2018, making clear that the CDA’s immunity does not apply to enforcement of federal or state sex trafficking laws. Unfortunately, the abuse on these platforms does not stop at sex trafficking, but includes all sorts of harmful illegal activity such as online black market opioid sales, identity theft, and election meddling.

Section 230 expressly exempts prosecution of federal crimes from the safe harbor, but “addressing criminal activity cannot be relegated to federal enforcement alone simply because the activity occurs online,” the letter states. “Attorneys General must be allowed to address these crimes themselves and fulfill our primary mandate to protect our citizens and enforce their rights.”

Attorneys general have addressed this issue with Congress before. In 2013 and 2017, nearly every state and territory AG wrote to inform Congress of the damaging misinterpretation and misapplication of Section 230 of the CDA.

In addition to Missouri, 46 other states signed on to the letter.