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So-Called ‘USMCA’ Includes ‘Sex Trafficking’ Loophole To Online Liability Protections

WASHINGTON, D.C.—After Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to do away with NAFTA—the North American Free Trade Agreement—calling the agreement “the worst trade deal ever made,” on September 30, Trump announced a new version of NAFTA which has been rebranded as the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, or USMCA, which internet civil liberties advocates say constitutes a missed opportunity to effectively do away with the FOSTA law supposedly aimed at stopping online “sex trafficking.”

FOSTA, signed into law by Trump in April after passing both the House and Senate in overwhelming, bipartisan votes, creates an exception to the once-revered Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 protects internet service providers from liability for activities by other providers using their sites. For example, under Section 230, Facebook could not be sued over libelous posts made by users on the platform. Section 230 is generally credited with making free expression on the internet possible.

But FOSTA carves out an exception to Section 230, holding sites responsible for supposed “sex trafficking” activities, such as classified ads for sexual services, posted by third party users.

The NAFTA replacement includes language that keeps the Section 230 protections in place, according to the news site Quartz. As a result, internet freedom advocates, and internet trade groups, praised the deal.

“I’m thrilled,” Berin Szoka, president of technology policy think tank TechFreedom. “This is the best-case scenario, in that they have closely paraphrased Section 230.”