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Oracle Breaks With Tech Industry on Online Human Trafficking Bill

September 6, 2017, 6:55 PM UTC

Cloud services company Oracle on Wednesday backed a bipartisan proposal in the U.S. Congress that would make it easier to penalize operators of websites that facilitate online sex trafficking.

The endorsement of legislation advancing in the U.S. Senate marks a sharp departure for Oracle from most of the technology industry, which vigorously opposes the bill on grounds it would thwart digital innovation and lead to endless litigation.

“Your legislation does not, as suggested by the bill’s opponents, usher the end of the internet,” Kenneth Glueck, Oracle senior vice president, wrote in a letter to Republican Senator Rob Portman and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, chief architects of the proposal.

“If enacted, it will establish some measure of accountability for those that cynically sell advertising but are unprepared to help curtail sex trafficking,” Glueck said.

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, introduced by Portman last month, would amend a section of a decades-old law that has generally shielded companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Alphabet’s Google from liability for content shared by their users.

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It would allow state attorneys general and victims of sex trafficking to pursue legal action against social media networks, advertisers and others that are found to be insufficiently limiting exploitative material on their platforms.

The U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has said suspected child sex trafficking has surged in recent years in part because of internet platforms that allow traffickers to advertise.

Technology companies have long opposed any changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which they have heralded as among the most important federal protections guarding innovation in Silicon Valley.

Oracle primarily works in the cloud services space, meaning unlike Google and other major tech firms it does not serve as an intermediary platform where users share content.

Portman has said his bill is sufficiently narrow in scope. In a statement, he cheered Oracle’s support as acknowledging that the legislation is the “right prescription for fixing a fundamental flaw in the law that has enabled online sex traffickers to escape justice.”

The bill has more than a quarter of support from the Senate, and similar legislation in the House of Representatives has accrued more than 100 co-sponsors. Still, it faces an uphill battle to pass a gridlocked Congress, which has sent no major legislation to President Donald Trump this year.