back to article Hookup classifieds ad sheet Backpage.com seized in Feds shutdown

Before a controversial law bill making websites liable for supporting sex trafficking has even been signed into law by President Trump, US authorities have taken the sort of legal action the pending legislation is intended to enable. On Friday, the US Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Postal …

  1. SuccessCase

    Regarding the timing, the Feds probably wanted to catch them with their guard down to gather any available evidence from the Backpage offices *before* they deal with it in preparation for the new legislation that will be coming in (assuming assuming such evidence exists - maybe it doesn’t). The Feds will probably then have the option to launch another investigation / case once the new legislation comes into force, but after they already have the evidence they may find.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "...after they already have the evidence..."

      Gathering evidence on a Monday to support a prosecution for activities that didn't become a crime until the following Thursday is an example of temporal misordering.

      I'm not a lawyer, but I believe that correct temporal ordering is essential, unless the enacted legislation specifically and explicitly permits retroactive enforcement. Which then probably wouldn't survive SCOTUS challenges anyway.

      Of course, with the 'Three Felonies A Day' reality, combined with the Devil's own Plea Bargain approach, anyone in the crosshairs is doomed anyway.

      1. caitlin.bestler

        Re: "...after they already have the evidence..."

        More fundamental temporal re-ordering: Sentence first, trial later.

        Given that Backpage merely supports these activities, rather than committing them directly, would there be major irreparable harm if we went through the formality of proving their guilt before seizing their property?

        It's not like proving the case is going to be difficult.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Something *must* be done about this <insert heinous crime here>"

      The basis of all badly written and ill thought out laws.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: "Something *must* be done about this <insert heinous crime here>"

        Not quite all. You missed bribary, and regulation written by the competition to shut out new entrants to the market.

  2. Daggerchild Silver badge
    Gimp

    New blockchain technology IPO : Blockpage

    Anonymous, open and easy to use interfaces, identities authenticated but masked, securely enchained, with an inviolable post-transaction audit trail for performance review and virus-detection purposes. Capable of widely distributing itself across your nodes. Scales (some parts very scaley indeed). Public demonstrations and penetration testing for backdoors available on request.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meat market

    It's not nice to "chill" free speech, but it's also not nice to allow underage sex traffickers a wide open online market where they may flog their "wares." The problem would shrink considerably without an easy way for customers to acquire "access" to the objects of their desire.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Meat market

      Gotta agree on that. Sex trafficking is an abomination, a blight on Humanity as a whole. Targetting those who facilitate such a thing is good.

      What makes me uneasy is the very cavalier way US law is used these days. We read this past week about how a new US law is being used retroactively on Microsoft to get holf of offshore data, now we see that an unsigned law has triggered an action that had no reason to wait for it.

      This is not the proper attitude to the law and, given that corporations are defining US law these days, I will not be surprised the day a megacorp gets fingered for something illegal, but a new law is passed and all of sudden everything is all right.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Meat market

        > ... given that corporations are defining US law these days, I will not be surprised the day a megacorp gets fingered for something illegal, but a new law is passed and all of sudden everything is all right.

        Did you miss the Global Financial Crisis caused by (mostly US) banks, which were then bailed out and 99.995% of the people responsible not only got off scott free, but received bonuses a year or so later?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Meat market

        "... a new US law is being used retroactively on Microsoft..."

        New, yes.

        But "retroactively"? This doesn't seem like a good example. They did, eventually, provide a brand new warrant. If somebody neglected that step at first, it was a trivial and silly oversight that was immediately shut down and fixed.

        There do exist crystal clear examples of dangerously retroactive enforcement. This one isn't a good example.

      3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Childcatcher

        "Sex trafficking is an abomination, a blight on Humanity as a whole. T"

        TOTC.

        As always.

        And as always this will be expanded to fit the wants of whatever group of cops wants to do whatever it is they want to do this week.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Meat market

      "The problem would shrink considerably without an easy way for customers to acquire "access" to the objects of their desire."

      Presumably the bulk of customers for such markets are relatively local to the supply? The result of the ban will be to force the trade back into more traditional forms of advertising.

      LEO will now lose an easy source of leads that could have been followed to at least help those being trafficked - even if the organisers had somehow kept themselves away from direct contact. This seems more like removing the underlying problems from sight.

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Meat market

        "Presumably the bulk of customers for such markets are relatively local to the supply? The result of the ban will be to force the trade back into more traditional forms of advertising."

        The law of unintended consequences probably means that somehow things will get worse. Lazy solutions to difficult social problems often have that effect. But people don't want to pay for, or take part in, the hard work of looking out for other people and police often do not want to intervene in what might look from the outside like a domestic matter.

        Mussolini's solution to the problem was licensed, state run prostitution. Medical facilities, regular pay, supervised working conditions. Why visit some dodgy pimp? When a fascist dictator is more progressive than a Western democracy you know there's a problem.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Meat market

          It reminds me of the war on "drugs".... If it does agree with their ideology of how thing should be, they'll use heavy handed tactics, waste millions of dollars, fight it with guns, make examples of the "consumers", and criminals of those caught in the cross-fire. In the end, nobody wins..

          They're too stupid to use their brains.

          1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

            Re: Meat market

            An ideology of how things should be that includes trafficking children for sex is an ideology I'd happily take up armed resistance against.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Meat market

              @Hollerithevo - trafficking children ...

              I hate to say this, but when it comes to these issues, I trust a politician about as much as Freddy Krueger offering to give me rectal exam - Simply because Pedo's and Terrorists are used as the political boogie men of the modern age.

              I've a young son and live in London, so I worry about him constantly when he's online or out with friends, yet every time I hear a politician incite either of these, my eyes roll up, purely because all they're doing is

              a) Trying to give the impression they understand the problem and tackling it

              b) They use the opportunity for bragging rights

              c) Using it as an excuse to assume powers, they actually intend to use for other things (See RIPA)

              d) Using the sly of hand to move attention from elsewhere

              Like others have said, if they'd really used their brains, they work with the providers (or quietly take-over the platforms) and run low-profile stings and put these sick f*ckers behind bars. Then take their assets (properties and cash) and use it to further increase funding into these operations, it would be self sustainable.... whilst allowing legitimate users to continue without interference.

              Sod it.. Whilst I'm preaching my own self-rightous back-seat political spiel. They should shut down unregulated crypto-currency. At the end of the day, it the main means these boogie men use for selling their warez.. besides serving for illicit purchases, its really little more than pyramid scheme!

        2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

          Re: Meat market

          @Voyna i Mor - The issue is not adult prostitution but child sex trafficking. With adult prostitution, Mussolini's solution makes a great deal of sense. But with child sex trafficking you are talking about pedophiles taking advantage of children. A very different problem. However, my reservations is with the mental capacity of Congresscritters and their tendency towards idiotic solutions to difficult problems.

          On a legal note, does anyone know what the US case law is on dead tree ads for child sex trafficking? I would be surprised if there was nothing given this is not new.

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: Meat market - @a_yank_lurker

            One issue is surely that the government has not found a way of going after paedophiles (or, let's call them what they are, child abusers) that is targeted. Another is trafficking which can apply to adult women as well as children and is also not being well addressed.

            I don't actually agree with Musso's solution; I merely mentioned it was more progressive than what is currently happening, but it isn't good. I do think that decriminalising adult consensual prostitution and permitting it to be advertised in licensed media would reduce harm somewhat. But while there are poor or marginalised men there will be those who try and drive down the going rate by trafficking, pimping and other violence against women, just as junk food outlets coexist alongside the sort of place I just had lunch where the prices are rather higher. The difference is that unlike fast food outlets, traffickers tend not to have shop windows in towns and are less visible. It's said some of the worst ones are now operating out of rented holiday houses in rural areas.

            I'd like to see a lot more effort put into identifying, catching, and locking up for life, paedophiles, pimps and traffickers. (Some of them would undoubtedly be in the police). But it would be expensive, and right now we are at a time when people seem not to want to pay for social goods; they just want a free apparent fix by "banning" something.

            1. tom dial Silver badge

              Re: Meat market - @a_yank_lurker

              The category "licensed media" is seriously at odds with the first amendment apart from things like FCC licensing of broadcast radio and television as necessary to allocate a somewhat scarce bandwidth resource and impose technical restrictions to prevent interference.

        3. Bruce Ordway

          Re: Meat market

          >>Mussolini's solution to the problem

          Yes, when you know there will always be a demand, why not just manage it?

          Wars on drugs, alcohol, prostitution, etc.. seem just as likely to empower criminals as they are to halt any of the practices.

      2. Michael Thibault

        Re: Meat market

        "LEO will now lose an easy source of leads that could have been followed to at least help those being trafficked"

        I understand why you'd suggest this. However, if there's no end-game being considered, the argument becomes 'the LEOs are compelled to keep trafficking via these channels going so that they can at least monitor things to the point where picking off the most egregious offenders remains possible'. Not the best approach. Your assumption is that LEOs won't (soon) round up the overwhelming majority of 'customers' via this tactic. Not an unreasonable assumption, but the tensions hinted at above will remain until a broad and deep sweep occurs.

      3. x 7

        Re: Meat market

        "LEO will now lose an easy source of leads that could have been followed to at least help those being trafficked - even if the organisers had somehow kept themselves away from direct contact. This seems more like removing the underlying problems from sight."

        not true - the transient nature of Backpage adverts makes them very hard to trail and log

        Much easier with some of the other paid sex sites, where the adverts have a longer presence. There's not much lost in the way of leads by eliminating Backpage

      4. I didn't do IT.

        Re: Meat market

        Indeed. More than likely this is to shut down the more public market to make sure money and clients stay with the entrenched players (who paid for the law in the first place?)...

      5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        This seems more like removing the underlying problems from sight.

        Because it is?

    3. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Meat market

      but it's also not nice to allow underage sex traffickers a wide open online market where they may flog their "wares."

      Hopefully we shall be seeing that message on facebook.com soon.

    4. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: Meat market

      Too simplistic.

      Knocking out a prostitution facilitating website will not stop trafficking.

      Trafficking will continue.

      The girls / women will still be working but arguably in more dangerous situations (e.g. street walking instead of working from an apartment).

      If in some way Backpage allowed some random to purchase a trafficked child then I'm sure other ways would be found to facilitate this that were harder for law enforcement to discover than Backpage.

      Given Backpage is a mainstream website then allows chance for law enforcement to gather data about those pimping out the girls (even if just "low grade" intel such as IP addresses, phone numbers, throwaway emails etc. - so they have a head start in investigations compared to "dark web" or word of mouth based approaches).

      Caveat, not from US so not sure how dodgy Backpage is, but do know they have helped give data on people who posted to law enforcement in the past.

      So I'm bemused why law enforcement do not exploit Backpage as an "in" t/ honeypot o trafficking crims.

      But I'm looking at this objectively from the viewpoint of finding criminals instead of knee jerk moral crusade.

      BTW religious zealots, one of JCs top friends, Mary M was a sex worker and was portrayed in quite a good light in the Bible.

  4. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I don't know the details on why Backpage were targeted. Did Backpage allow ads to run where it was expectedly stated that people were underage or not remove ads if they were reported?

    I thought Backpage were covered by the same US law that Twitter, Youtube and Facebook use about not being responsible for user generated content. I am sure that there are posts and uploads to these social media site that would be illegal but you don't see the Feds seizing their domains.

    If this is just about people posting escorting ads that claim the persons involved are 18+ and it was only discovered they were underage when the police made arrests, that is hardly Backpage's fault

    1. Voidstorm

      Exocet missile used to kill pit viper, whole Zoo destroyed by "Accident" (not)

      The genuine issue here is that the US statutory authorities were advised that an explicit and visible crackdown on **sexwork generally** would not result in public support.

      They were informed that if the narrative were spun as being "anti-sex trafficking of minors" then bills such as are mentioned in the article could easily be passed.

      Lo and behold.

      The size of the problem being *ostensibly* targeted has long been overstated by three orders of magnitude (The FBIs own case statistics bear that out). A huge population of NGO's has grown up on the back of this anti-trafficking rhetoric, getting millions of Federal tax dollars a year, for a problem with a magbitude of hundreds of cases, based on rehtorical claims of hundreds of *thousands*.

      When you look into which organisations are behind the political figures, a disturbingly puritanical list of anti-sexuality, anti-sexwork groups comes to the surface. Don't take my word for it, go look yourself.

      Thanks to the breadth and looseness of the legislation, a woman who is a sexworker, entirely voluntarily and excercising her own free choice todo so, can be arrested for (driving herself across a state line) er we mean "trafficking"

      These laws in effect dispense with burden of proof, and leave the arrested person facing asset seizure and federal penalties of decades in jail for "trafficking" *herself*.

      Yes, It's that bad.

      If I were to say to you "Better 999 innocent people suffer, than 1 guilty person go free" you would be rightfully horrified. Yet that is *exactly* the mechanic behind these laws, as they are legislated and being applied.

      They're after the pit vipers, sure, but nuking the zoo is the "silent agenda behind the one they're waving the big red flag for".

      Go look at it, crtically. Then imagine your daughter/sister/aunt/mother is a voluntary sexworker. Like the majority, if you listen to sexworkers own accounts, are.

    2. eldakka Silver badge

      > I thought Backpage were covered by the same US law that Twitter, Youtube and Facebook use about not being responsible for user generated content.

      They are.

      That is the whole point of the SESTA legislation mentioned in the article, to strip those protections away in specific (sex trafficking) circumstances.

      The problem is, SESTA hasn't been signed into law yet as it's still awaiting the President's signature, therefore, in theory at least, it is still protected by DMCA safe harbour protections, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

      The other thing that will be interesting (well, TBH scary) to see is how the US legal system perverts the legislation to stifle un-related free speech that it doesn't like.

      1. eldakka Silver badge

        Missed edit window, that should be Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, not DMCA,

    3. Michael Thibault

      Re: Hookup classifieds ad sheet Backpage.com seized in Feds shutdown

      "… covered by the same US law that Twitter, Youtube and Facebook use about not being responsible for user generated content."

      They all became responsible for the content when they implemented filters/algorithm/fatwas/proscriptions/etc. on content. Laissez-faire -- acting as a purely neutral conduit -- is what gets them free and clear of responsibility for the content of the pipe.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An academic study (2010-2015) analysed statistics for the six years.

    The figure for "use of technology" does not necessarily mean advertising online. It can also include recruitment of victims via various fora - and setting up response appointments.

    A figure for non-online advertising would appear to be anywhere in the range 32% to 58%. With a higher probability towards the lower end of the range. If it is assumed that Backpage.com was by far the largest forum for adverts online - then non-online advertising could be as high as say 50%.

    The analysis makes no mention of other forms of advertising - except that only about 10% were through direct street contact.

    Only 20% of cases were police stings - presumably following up adverts. Whereas 32% were complaints by the victims or their families. It is possible that other cases were a by-product of actions against gangs and drug dealing.

    Quotes:

    67.3% of the cases used technology (email, online ads, smartphones) in the sex trafficking activities.

    o

    Backpage.com was used by the sex trafficker in 592 cases (41.8%)

    [...]

    More than half of the victims were runaways.

    o

    Most cases were reactive cases with a report being made to law enforcement by

    the victim (18%), their family (10.5%), or an anonymous caller (3.3%).

    o

    20.8% of the cases were identified through police stings

    /Quotes

  6. DavCrav Silver badge

    I'm trying to work out how the people who run Backpage actually feel about themselves.

    "Looking at the top number here, we see that our revenues are up 10% in this quarter."

    "What's this number below it?"

    "Oh, that's the number of child sex slaves we've helped rape this quarter."

    "Erm, why is that number not zero?"

    "You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Now if you turn to the next page, you'll see our revenue and child rape forecasts for the next fiscal year."

    1. Deltics
      Pint

      First of all, let me make it abundantly clear that I am not advocating or in anyway supporting sex trafficking or any other form of trafficking or exploitation, not even the legally sanctioned exploitation of workers by tilting the legislative and regulatory regimes in favour of employers, in WHATEVER line of work their employees may be engaged in but which don't attract the liberal left penchant for campaigning and pyrrhric victory celebrations. But I digress...

      If you wonder how the people of Backpage feel about this, then you must also ask yourself how the inventor of email feels. Or the telephone. Or the printing press. Or the first human-like creature to make an utterance which was understood by a fellow human-like creature to be a form of communication.

      Backpage is - like innumerable other examples - a medium by which people are able to connect and communicate and exchange wants and needs. Shutting down the entire medium because of a small number of people using that system to engage in an exchange of wants and needs that are illegal or morally reprehensible is the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut.

      What about all of the sex workers using Backpage around the world as a legitimate part of their legitimate business ?

      What about all of the people around the world using Backpage for purposes wholly unrelated and unconnected to sex trafficking, the sex industry or any illegal or even legally questionable activity ?

      We should console ourselves with the thought that all of those legitimate activities can simply find alternative channels ? Well so can the professed intended targets.

      Hard problems demand hard solutions, not clumsy ones.

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        "If you wonder how the people of Backpage feel about this, then you must also ask yourself how the inventor of email feels. Or the telephone. Or the printing press. Or the first human-like creature to make an utterance which was understood by a fellow human-like creature to be a form of communication."

        Oh fuck off. It's more like asking how someone who is delivering a package would feel if you tell them there's a kidnapped child sex slave in it, i.e., any normal person would, you know, not carry on. The people at Backpage can stop this themselves, they just don't want to because they are making money from it, and they are fundamentally sociopaths, they have to be. If you are in a job where you are making money from child sex slaves, most people would not just carry on regardless.

        Let's not try to compare someone knowingly transmitting messages about child sex slaves (I'm going to carry on saying that because I think you are not quite getting it yet) and inventing a printing press that then someone else uses to go and do something.

      2. x 7

        "What about all of the sex workers using Backpage around the world as a legitimate part of their legitimate business ?"

        the truth is (at least as far as the UK is concerned) very few "legitimate" escort adverts were placed on Backpage / Cracker. Something approaching 80% were clearly either adverts or trafficking victims or out-and-out scams, attempting to rip punters off.

        Nearly all the legit UK girls advertise on Adultwork, though theres dodgy stuff on there.

  7. DougS Silver badge

    I'm surprised the founder is living in the US

    Even if your lawyer tells you "don't worry, I've looked into the law and there is no way they can get you" if you are making money off connecting child sex slaves to child rapists, you'd think you'd want the extra safety of living somewhere much further off the radar of civilized countries that don't like seeing children raped.

    Even if the authorities couldn't touch you, you'd think with all the guns in the US there might be one gun owner - perhaps one whose child was raped thanks to backpage - who was willing to do a solid for society by taking this guy out. Yeah yeah I know some people will be horrified to see extra-judicial revenge killing being advocated, but I for one wouldn't shed a tear for his demise and wouldn't mind if the judge went easy on the killer.

    I'm glad this guy was stupidly living in the US where he's easy to arrest so he'll get what's coming to him, even if all he gets is to rot in prison for the rest of his life.

    1. tip pc Bronze badge

      Re: I'm surprised the founder is living in the US

      Wow, your like the judge, jury and executioner all in one, don’t compare yourself to judge dread though.

      I know nothing of this site, but unless it’s super blatant I assume it’s doing the same as other classifieds and is not interested and not intentionally targeting that market and is being caught in the crossfire.

      Maybe Facebook and WhatsApp should be taken offline too?

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: I'm surprised the founder is living in the US

        "I know nothing of this site, but unless it’s super blatant I assume it’s doing the same as other classifieds and is not interested and not intentionally targeting that market and is being caught in the crossfire."

        Yeah, no. They've been in court about this issue before. They know they are facilitating child prostitution, they just don't care.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: I'm surprised the founder is living in the US

          They remove words like 'lolita' and 'rape' but post the ad after "cleaning it up". They know EXACTLY what they're doing. Given all the negative publicity I can't imagine anyone uses backpage.com for anything legitimate at this point, so it is probably damn near 100% illegal content.

  8. x 7

    1) the alternative portal, cracker.com has also been grabbed - but the new holding page indicates its been closed as part of "Project TransAtlantic VIII" - last years big anticounterfeiting operation

    see for instance manchester.cracker.com

    makes me wonder if the rationale for this raid is not what we think

    2) Backpage tried to have a plan B in place: theres a new site at https://www.bedpage.com/

    Some listings seem to have been pulled across from the cracker servers, certainly the sex/escort listings are up and running for the USA, though the UK ones seem corrupt

  9. Dan Paul

    All website operators lose the right to a fair trial when the willingly accept the business of sex and drug traffickers. If the punishment is suppossed to fit the crime, then I have no problem with taking every dollar these scum ever made and locking them up forever

    1. Cyril

      @Dan Paul

      Nobody loses the right to a fair trial. If they did something wrong and it can be proven in a court of law then they get punished.

      If it can't be proven in a court of law then it is possible that they didn't do it.

      Don, how would you like to be locked up without trial for a heinous crime that you didn't commit?

    2. Voidstorm

      Quote : "I have no problem ... and locking them up forever"

      Funnily enough, there was a group of people about whom a very similar expression was made.

      Who was it now....let me think. Aha. They were called "Jews"

      The people branding them scum of the earth? ... The Nazis in germany in 1938.

      The problem with your sentiment? Apart from freedom of everybody being eroded one statute at a time, and the sex workers getting forced into the shadows by this shit?

      Backpage aren't selling the kids. They are what you might call a third party platform. Like Amazon. Twitter and many others. The madness of these Orwellian laws will not stop at backpage.

      No sir.

  10. DrM

    Next?

    So, where do the ads move to next? Overseas websites? Dark web?

    Oh, all prostitution will end, will it?

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Next?

      "Next?

      So, where do the ads move to next? Overseas websites? Dark web?

      Oh, all prostitution will end, will it?"

      No point in prosecuting criminals, there will always be more crime?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019