A federal court considering a challenge to the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, or FOSTA , dismissed the case on Monday.
EFF and partner law firms filed a lawsuit in June against the Justice Department on behalf of two human rights organizations, a digital library, an activist for sex workers, and a certified massage therapist to block enforcement of FOSTA.
Unfortunately, a federal court sided with the government and dismissed Woodhull Freedom Foundation et al. v. United States. The court did not reach the merits of any of the constitutional issues, but instead found that none of the plaintiffs had
standing to challenge the law's legality.
We're disappointed and believe the decision is wrong. For example, the court failed to apply the standing principles that are usually applied in First Amendment cases in which the plaintiffs' speech is chilled. The plaintiffs are considering
their options for their next steps.
FOSTA was passed by Congress for the worthy purpose of fighting sex trafficking, but the poorly-written bill contains language that criminalizes the protected speech of those who advocate for and provide resources to adult, consensual sex
workers. Worse yet, the bill actually hinders efforts to prosecute sex traffickers and aid victims.
The lawsuit argues that FOSTA forces community forums and speakers offline for fear of criminal charges and heavy civil liability, in violation of their constitutional rights. We asked the federal court to strike down the law, though the
government argued that the plaintiffs were not likely to be subject to criminal or civil liability under the law.
On Thursday, July 19, at 4 pm, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will urge a federal judge to put enforcement of FOSTA on hold during the pendency of its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal law. The hold is needed,
in part, to allow plaintiff Woodhull Freedom Foundation, a sex worker advocacy group, to organize and publicize its annual conference, held August 2-5.
FOSTA , or the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, was passed by Congress in March. But despite its name, FOSTA attacks online speakers who speak favorably about sex work by imposing harsh penalties for any website that
might be seen as facilitating prostitution or contribute to sex trafficking. In Woodhull Freedom Foundation v. U.S. , filed on behalf of two human rights organizations, a digital library, an activist for sex workers, and a certified massage
therapist, EFF maintains the law is unconstitutional because it muzzles constitutionally protected speech that protects and advocates for sex workers and forces speakers and platforms to censor themselves.
Enforcement of the law should be suspended because the plaintiffs are likely to win the case and because it has caused, and will continue to cause, irreparable harm to the plaintiffs, EFF co-counsel Bob Corn-Revere of Davis Wright Tremaine will
tell the court at a hearing this week on the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. Because of the risk of criminal penalties, the plaintiffs have had their ads removed from Craigslist and censored information on their websites.
Plaintiff Woodhull Freedom Foundation has censored publication of information that could assist sex workers negatively impacted by the law. FOSTA threatens Woodhull's ability to engage in protected online speech, including livestreaming and live
tweeting its August meeting, unless FOSTA is put on hold.
Judge Richard Leon of United States District Court in Washington D.C. heard Woodhull's request for a preliminary injunction that would stop the law from remaining in effect until the group's lawsuit, but did not issue a judgement. Nor did he
announce a date when he would issue a ruling.
According to one account from inside the courtroon, Leon sounded skeptical that the law had actually caused harm to the plaintiffs in the case.