Woodhull Freedom Foundation Files Lawsuit Challenging FOSTA

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, attorneys representing Woodhull Freedom Foundation together with Human Rights Watch, The Internet Archive, and two individuals filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (“FOSTA”), under the First and Fifth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

Woodhull’s President and CEO Ricci Levy stated, “FOSTA chills sexual speech and harms sex workers. It makes it harder for people to take care of and protect themselves, and, as an organization working to protect people’s fundamental human rights, Woodhull is deeply concerned about the damaging impact that this law will have on all people.”

FOSTA represents the most broad-based censorship of Internet speech since the Communications Decency Act of 1996, effectively driving large swaths of constitutionally-protected speech off the Internet. Even the Department of Justice warned Congress about the overreaching provisions of the law before it was passed.

Specifically, FOSTA:

  • creates new criminal and civil liability for website operators who host third-party content that “promotes or facilitates prostitution of another person”;
  • expands criminal and civil liability such that any speaker online who allegedly “promotes” or “facilitates” sex trafficking can be treated as though they are participating in “a venture” [read: conspiracy] with those who are directly engaged in trafficking;
  • removes protections for websites whose users’ speech might be seen as in violation of the law;
  • applies to speech that occurred even before FOSTA was enacted.

Woodhull, along with the other plaintiffs, are represented by Bob Corn-Revere and Ronald London, of Davis Wright Tremaine, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Daphne Keller, and Lawrence G. Walters, of Walters Law Group.

Woodhull advocates for the right to engage in consensual sexual activity and opposes all forms of human coercion. We absolutely support appropriately targeted and effective measures to end sex trafficking. FOSTA, however, erroneously conflates consensual sex work with trafficking, and will interfere with more productive attempts to protect vulnerable people from harm. FOSTA also chills online expression about sexual topics and encourages massive self-censorship by internet platforms.  

The complaint is available here.