Feds shut down Backpage.com website noted for prostitution ads

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The legislation, featured prominently in the popular Netflix documentary I am Jane Doe, amends the Communications Decency Act, which has shielded website operators from state criminal charges or civil liability if they facilitate sex ads or prostitution.

Michael Lacey, 69, of Sedona, Arizona, who co-founded Backpage, was charged Friday as part of the indictment, Lacey's lawyer, Larry Kazan, told USA Today. The company shuttered its adult section a year ago in response to government pressure.

Also a year ago, Senators Rob Portman, Republican of OH, and Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, oversaw an investigative report that accused Backpage of knowingly facilitating online sex trafficking. But the website also has listings for adult escorts and other sexual services, and authorities say advertising related to those services has been extremely lucrative.

Classified site Craigslist shut down the personal advertisement section of its websites late last month after Congress passed a bill that would make it easier for people to sue websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. They singled out Backpage, citing dozens of instances in which minors had been trafficked via the site.

While a Senate report in 2017 alleged that Backpage was concealing evidence of sex trafficking, people who say they work in the sex industry by choice argue that the site helps them stay safe.

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The FBI post claimed federal attorneys in Arizona and California and the Justice Department's section on child exploitation and obscenity and the California and Texas attorneys general jointly participated in the action.

On Friday an electronic sticker was slapped onto the online classified ad site, stating it has been seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. postal inspectors and the IRS.

California state Attorney General Kamala D. Harris filed 39 new counts against Backpage, Ferrer, Lacey and Larkin in December, despite the judge's earlier ruling, and accused the company of running an "online brothel".

"The seizure of the malicious sex marketplace Backpage.com marks an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking". But until Friday the website had continued to operate, shielded by free speech protections.

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