Judge Seals Backpage.com Federal Case From Public, Website Remains Seized

Technology
Judge Seals Backpage.com Federal Case From Public, Website Remains Seized PHOTOGRAPH: Sara Miller |

A judge decides that no further information should be declared regarding the government’s confiscation of Backpage.com. The website remains inaccessible as of press time.

The federal law enforcement has seized the classified ads website on April 6, 2018. Users are being routed to a pop-up page which reads in part that “Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized…”

The FBI, US Postal Inspection Service, and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division have participated in the action. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, the U.S. Department o Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity section have supported the deed. The banner reads that “information will be given at 6:00 p.m. on April 6” which did not happen following the judge’s pronouncement.

Backpage.com Allegedly Facilitating Prostitution and Sex Trafficking

Sara Miller | Daily Disruption

The FBI has reportedly raided the homes of Backpage.com Co-founder Michael Lacey while a reporter for Azcentral reports on FBI activity which he witnesses at the house of Jim Larkin, another co-founder of the site. Meanwhile, Cindy McCain, wife of Senator John McCain alleges that federal officials have seized Backpage’s offices worldwide.

Backpage.com has been receiving lawsuits for years but it hides behind a law that gives immunity to websites from being held liable for user-generated content, CNN notes. The law, specifically the Section 230 of the 1996 Communication Decency Act, allows online companies to protect its users.

Through years, Backpage prospers as a classified ads website. Specifically, its revenue has increased to $135 million in 2014 from $5.3 million in 2008, The New York Times reports. More than 90 percent of its earnings have been generated from adult ads, the publication says.

Backpage Has Been Subjected To Investigation In 2017

A Senate report released in 2017 states that employees of the website have intentionally deleted words that can sound alarmed to the authorities. The staff has filtered out words such as “Lolita,” “amber alert,” “fresh,” and “school girl.”

“At the direction of CEO Carl Ferrer, the company programmed this electronic filter to ‘strip’—that is, delete—hundreds of words indicative of sex trafficking (including child sex trafficking) or prostitution from ads before their publication,” the 2017 report reveals.

The report also states that Backpage is involved in 73 percent of all child trafficking that has been reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. There have also been more than 400 cases of child sex trafficking across 47 states that are associated with the website, according to investigations done in 2015.

In February 2018, the Senate approves a legislation that created an exception to Section 230. The websites can now be held liable for facilitating sex trafficking. Interestingly, Craiglist, a known competitor to Backpage, has removed its personal ads section just two days after the law gets approval.