Backpage.com, a site that has been accused of facilitating prostitution and human trafficking, has been shut down by federal authorities, according to The New York Times.
A notification posted on the website on Friday simply says that Backpage had been “seized as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division.” Also on Friday, the FBI raided the Arizona home of Michael Lacey, one of Backpage’s founders.
Backpage.com, a classifieds site that is primarily used to peddle sexual services, has been accused by activists of hosting ads that promote the prostitution of underage children. According to Reuters, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that Backpage.com has been linked to almost three-quarters of reports of online child sex trafficking submitted to the organization.
After facing intense pressure from lawmakers, Backpage shuttered its “adult services listing” section in January of last year. But according to the Times, many of the “adult” listings were simply moved to different sections of the website.
The crackdown comes just a few weeks after Congress passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which amends section 231 of the Communications Decency Act to make web providers responsible for any criminal activity by their users. Some major tech companies pushed back against the bill, arguing that it would be detrimental to their business models and remove fundamental internet protections. But after the bill was tweaked, many of these companies signed on with their support.
President Trump is expected to sign the new law. But as Forbes points out, he has not yet done so and the law “apparently had nothing to do” with the recent federal action.
In a statement, U.S. senator John McCain of Arizona said the “seizure of the malicious sex marketplace Backpage.com marks an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking … Today’s action sends a strong message to Backpage and any other company facilitating online sex trafficking that they will be held accountable for these horrific crimes.”