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AG Derek Schmidt: Congress must do more to allow state prosecutions of online crimes

Release Date: May 24, 2019

AG Derek Schmidt: Congress must do more to allow state prosecutions of online crimes

TOPEKA – (May 24, 2019) – A change in federal law enacted last year is helpful in enabling states to hold online sex traffickers accountable but should be broadened to cover other crimes, Attorney General Derek Schmidt told Congress.

Schmidt yesterday joined in a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of congressional committees of jurisdiction in support of a further amendment to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA). The letter was signed by attorneys general from 44 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

The attorneys general argue Section 230 has been misinterpreted and misapplied, rendering state and local authorities unable to enforce many criminal laws merely because the crime is facilitated online.

The CDA was designed to encourage the growth of the internet by making companies that sponsor message boards immune from state prosecution for posts involving illegal conduct. However, some federal courts have interpreted Section 230 so broadly that individuals and services that knowingly aid and profit from illegal activity on their sites have hidden behind that immunity to evade state prosecution.

Last year, the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” and “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act,” known as FOSTA-SESTA, was enacted by Congress to clarify that the CDA’s immunity does not prevent enforcement of state sex-trafficking laws. While helpful, that change does not allow for state prosecution of other crimes involving these platforms, such as online black market opioid sales, identity theft and election meddling.

“In its passage of FOSTA-SESTA, Congress understood that the immense challenges presented by sex trafficking on the Internet must be shared by Federal and State authorities,” the attorneys general wrote. “The increasing challenges presented by profiteers of the many other criminal enterprises online require the same level of investigation and prosecution that can only come from inclusion of State and Local resources.”

The letter marks a continued effort by state attorneys general to persuade Congress to fix this problem. In 2013 and 2017, attorneys general from nearly every state and territory wrote to inform Congress of the damaging misinterpretation and misapplication of Section 230 that is thwarting state criminal prosecutions.

A copy of the letter sent yesterday may be found at https://bit.ly/2wgPJWO.

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