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Backpage Founders Trial Finally Begins

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It's been over three years since Backpage.com was seized (the week before FOSTA was signed into law -- which is notable since every conversation about the need for FOSTA claimed it was because existing laws were useless to stop Backpage). However, in the intervening years we've seen that the loss of Backpage, rather than "protecting" women, seems to have put women at much greater risk. The recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report highlighted how the loss of Backpage, combined with FOSTA, has made it difficult for law enforcement to track down actual sex traffickers.As more of the backstory behind the war on Backpage came out, the more ridiculous it looked. The company actually was incredibly helpful in working with law enforcement to track down and stop sex trafficking. The problem came when law enforcement wanted to stop more than actual sex trafficking, and started going after consensual sex work. Backpage pushed back, suggesting that was too far, and that's when the government turned Backpage into being a villain.With the trial beginning, the Daily Beast has as pretty comprehensive and pretty fair article detailing the whole thing, including raising serious questions about what exactly Backpage's founders actually did to deserve this criminal trial.

According to documents published by Reason, federal prosecutors in the Western District of Washington reviewed more than 100,000 documents and interviewed more than a dozen witnesses in 2012 in an attempt to bring a case against Backpage, but failed to find a smoking gun. In fact, according to a memo written by two assistant U.S. attorneys at the time, local FBI agents found the company remarkably responsive to law enforcement requests and said the site often takes proactive steps to assist in investigations.At the outset of this investigation, it was anticipated that we would find evidence of candid discussions among [Backpage] principals about the use of the site for juvenile prostitution which could be used as admissions of criminal conduct," the attorneys wrote in a 2013 update to the memo. "It was also anticipated that we would find numerous instances where Backpage learned that a site user was a juvenile prostitute and Backpage callously continued to post advertisements for her. To date, the investigation has revealed neither.
The article also notes how damaging FOSTA and (relatedly) the loss of Backpage has been:
In the weeks after its passage, FOSTA/SESTA felled not only Backpage, but other adult advertising sites like Massage Republic and Cityvibe, and even the Craigslist personal ads section. The impact was tangible: A survey from the sex worker advocacy group Hacking/Hustling found 33.8 percent of respondents reported an increase in violence from clients after the law was signed, and 72.5 percent reported they were facing increased financial insecurity. Advocates related stories of sex workers who were thrust into the arms of pimps in order to find work, or back into abusive relationships for want of somewhere to stay.
The article does note that the founders on trial, Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, could be highlighting the harm to sex workers that came from taking down Backpage, but instead they've focused specifically on the "free speech" arguments.
Whether Larkin and Lacey want this status is less clear. Their pre-trial statement paints them as free-speech warriors valiantly defending offensive and unpopular speech. Conspicuously missing from the statement, as journalist Melissa Gira Grant pointed out on Twitter, are the words prostitution or sex work; there is only a glancing reference to adult advertising.Kaytlin Bailey, a former sex worker and host of The Oldest Profession Podcast, says the longtime newspapermen are now telling the wrong story.I were in their shoes, the story I would be telling is the story of the survival of their users, she said, referring to the sex workers who lost their source of income when the site was taken offline.They think of themselves as free speech warriors, and I think sex workers think of themselves as in a fight for survival.
The article also quotes Prof. Alexandra Yelderman, who has been one of the top scholars on the dangers of things like FOSTA and removing sites that facilitated speech, highlighting just how questionable this lawsuit actually is:
Alexandra Yelderman, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, argues that the trial still holds serious significancemore so than the criminal prosecutions of RentBoy, myRedBook, and other adult websites. While those sites only advertised sex work, Yelderman said, Backpage advertised other services, such as housing, cars, and temporary jobs. And everyone should be concerned that the government would jeopardize that kind of speech to get at the other stuff.What the Backpage takedown and prosecution is an example of is the government's willingness to throw all sorts of speech under the bus here, in order to get at speech thataccording to the indictmentfacilities the crime of prostitution, she said.This is not a trafficking prosecution, she added. This is a case where allegations that [the founders] facilitated prostitution were an impetus for the government to take aim at this entire swath of speech.
Whether you liked Backpage or not -- and it's fair to criticize some of the company's business practices -- this trial is incredibly important. And given the nature of the subject matter (not to mention some serious concerns about the judge's conflicts--she's married to the state Attorney General who campaigned against the website), there's a decent chance of a ruling here that will set a terrible precedent both for free speech online and for sex workers.

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posted at: 12:00am on 08-Sep-2021
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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External Investigation Finds Small Number Of Aurora PD Officers Create The Most Problems (Plus 98 Other Reason To Improve)

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Maybe cops are too close to the action? Perhaps that's why it always seems it takes an outside entity to discover the problems (and problem officers) in police departments. The US Department of Justice frequently does this (less frequently from 2017-2020), although the long-term effects of its consent decrees and investigations seems to be pretty much negligible.So, why can't the police police themselves? The most obvious answer is there's no reason to. Few politicians are willing to go head-to-head with law enforcement agencies and even less willing to do so with their unions. Appearing to be tough on crime usually plays well enough it won't cost them votes. Looking the other way keeps legislators employed.Accountability activists are doing the work we're paying professional government employees to do, for the most part. But recent events have made some legislators realize sucking up to cops isn't as likely to result in lifetime employment as it used to. Changes will be made, if only because they're politically expedient.But back to the original question: why can't cop shops determine what's holding them back or which cops are a detriment to the force? We're still left to speculate, but there's no speculated answer that makes these agencies look good. And neither do the outside reports, which highlight tons of stuff that should have been obvious to those closest to the action.This report deals with a single agency in a Colorado city with a population of 369,000. And yet…

Here are the 99 ways Aurora police can improve, according to a comprehensive review launched by the city
Ninety. Nine. Only Jay-Z had this many problems and he was able to subtract at least one.The Aurora PD has problems. It cannot pretend it doesn't. There's too much on the record. And yet, it refuses to do anything about it. Prompted by a series of incidents in 2020 -- including an officer passed out drunk behind the wheel of a police car, the killing of Elijah McClain, and the wrongful detainment of a black woman and her four children, the City of Aurora decided to engage in some long-delayed oversight.Its findings are things the PD should have known. (And likely knew, but did nothing about.) There are terrible officers. And there are the rest of the officers, supervisors, and top-level management who look the other way, which definitely does not make them "good" cops.
Just 35 officers accounted for 40% of the officer misconduct cases between 2017 and 2020, a "disproportionately large share," according to investigators.
Can the PD operate without these officers? Most likely, yes. But it refuses to get rid of its worst employees, which turns city residents into ATMs for lawsuit settlements.Why haven't these officers been ousted? Well, it's the department itself, which is most likely hamstrung by its contract with the Aurora Police Association, the local union that stands as a bulwark between bad officers and the accountability that would result in a better police department. The report also states there's too much red tape for discipline to be effective, and that internal investigations take too long.And so, having ignored the problems for years, the list of problems is exceedingly long. (And, to be fair, it is, at times, somewhat repetitive.) One of the main areas needing improvement is the PD's use of force policies. What's in place is minimal and provides very little guidance. It needs more specifics and limitations. The report lists a large number of improvements, including de-escalation as the default and giving people the opportunity to comply with commands before handing out beatdowns.This, of course, will require more training, which the report recommends.And there should be a lot more transparency and accountability.
APD should require officers to document, and provide specific information about, all interactions with the public that are not voluntary.[...]APD should make information about complaints relating to bias, profiling, and discrimination available on its website, along with information about the adjudication of investigations of such complaints.
A large part of the report deals with the APD's handling of complaints against officers. The way it works now is that it doesn't work. It's (perhaps intentionally) convoluted, complex, and unlikely to result in thorough or timely investigations. The report says nearly everything about this needs to change.
Complaint and discipline procedures should be codified in separate directives with an emphasis on enhanced clarity.The current process for handling external complaints should be streamlined. Currently, it is convoluted and substantially more complex than it should be. Policies relating to administrative investigations and external complaints should be consolidated.Allegations of misconduct against employees that may result in discipline or other corrective actions should be identified and categorized by the severity of rule, policy, practice violation in the rewritten directive.
These are all recommendations. It's unclear whether the APD is under any obligation to implement them. And if the city does make these mandatory, it's unclear how much its existing agreement with the APD's union will prevent some of these from moving forward. But it's clear the department needs to change. The disappointing thing is that it took the city (and city residents' tax dollars) to point out problems the APD already should have been aware of… and problems it should have already been making efforts to address.

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posted at: 12:00am on 08-Sep-2021
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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