FOSTA/SESTA is a new federal law that was passed by Congress on March 21, 2018, and signed into law by President Trump on April 11. It does the following:

  • States the explicit congressional intent that the Communications Decency Act (CDA) Section 230 was not intended to shield websites that unlawfully promote or facilitate prostitution from legal liability and amends CDA Section 230(e) to add that nothing in this section shall be construed to limit any civil or criminal charges against websites in violation of federal or state law AND
  • Amends Chapter 117 of Title 18 USC 2421A to include the crime of promotion or facilitation and reckless disregard of sex trafficking to include interactive computer services (websites).

 

What that means is that websites can be sued pursuant to civil or criminal law if the content on their site violates the law. Previously, CDA 230 effectually shielded third party sites from being liable for content posted.

The initial practical impact has been self-censoring from within the tech industry to ensure they will not be held liable for content online. This has had the perverse effect of creating heightened economic desperation for people in the sex industry. In many instances, websites where sex workers advertised their services, screened clients for safety, and arranged co-working situations have closed. In other instances, sex workers have limited their online advertising as a result of a climate of fear.

As a result, there has been an increase of street-based sex work, as reported by sex workers and defense attorneys who represent them. Further, rather than assisting the fight against human trafficking, this law has severed access to online material that could aid in building a case against traffickers. Websites that used to cooperate with law enforcement are no longer operable, and it has fostered an environment of fear and the creation of underground websites that have little to no accountability.