SESTA and related sex-trafficking-related amendments to CDA 230

Document type
Proposed Law


SESTA (in the Senate) and FOSTA (in the House) are both bills that would amend Communications Decency Act Section 230 (CDA 230) to create new liability for intermediaries in sex trafficking cases. Both are responses to judicial victories by Backpage, a classified advertising site that includes adult services listings. After Backpage successfully relied on CDA 230 immunities, new facts came to light, including claims that Backpage employees worked directly with sex traffickers to help draft advertisements. At least one case, Doe v. Backpage, is ongoing and may lead to a different result under CDA 230.

SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, would create new civil and criminal claims in sex trafficking cases. It would expand federal criminal law, which applies to platforms regardless of CDA 230. In addition, it would permit new exceptions to CDA 230 for state law criminal claims, and for both state and federal civil claims. Critics, including CIS Intermediary Liability Director Daphne Keller, have called its language virtually incomprehensible, and said that it would leave platforms - particularly small ones - entirely unsure of their legal obligations.

FOSTA, the House bill, has gone through several iterations. The most recent was expected to advance as of February 27, 2018. Eric Goldman's detailed update and links to draft bills as of January 2017 is here.

Topic, claim, or defense
Child Protection (Includes Child Pornography)
Obscenity or Morality
Physical Harm (e.g. Assault, Trespass to Chattels)
Document type
Proposed Law
Issuing entity
Legislative Branch
Type of service provider
General or Non-Specified
Issues addressed
Trigger for OSP obligations
OSP obligation considered
Block or Remove
Monitor or Filter
Account Termination
Type of law
General effect on immunity
Weakens Immunity
General intermediary liability model
Takedown/Act Upon Knowledge (Includes Notice and Takedown)