It was a daring raid carried out with military precision in a remote city of the Philippines — an operation that yielded surprise ammunition for a legal battle over the classified ad site Backpage, which has been accused of promoting sex trafficking.
The strike involved two planes, 14 vehicles, sheriffs and lawyers, computer forensic experts, and armed guards with their firearms discreetly tucked away in shoulder bags….
Accompanying the photos were thousands of documents linking Avion to Backpage, which has been vigorously fighting a slew of charges in the U.S. that it promotes prostitution and child exploitation [including] a 20-month U.S. Senate investigation that found Backpage complicit in trafficking.
The company’s legal woes also include criminal charges refiled last year by the state of California against its CEO and two founders and a civil lawsuit now headed for trial in Washington state after the courts declined to dismiss it.
Backpage’s defense is that it’s not responsible for ads posted on the site, based on Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act which says that online service providers cannot be held liable for content provided by third parties.
The company also says that it does what it can to crack down on illegal activity by hiring moderators to flag problematic content. [Sound familiar?]
But, according to Florance, “when we looked at what we saw in the Philippines, we saw something that did not go with that storyline at all.”
“They appeared to us to be actively engaged in looking worldwide to try to find prostitutes to get them to bring their wares to be sold on Backpage,” he said.
Watch Eric Schmidt swallow his tongue when confronted by Consumer Watchdog at Google shareholder meeting over Google’s support for Backpage.