Back on Aug. 31, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna aired some strong concerns about incidents of underage sex trafficking on Backpage.com, a nationwide online classifieds operation owned by Village Voice Media, LLC (and used by the VVM LLC-owned Seattle Weekly).
To press those concerns, McKenna and 45 other attorneys general then requested—"in lieu of a subpoena"—that Backpage answer a long list of questions about its business practices by Sept. 14. At Backpage's request, an extension of the deadline was granted. Then, on Friday, a response from Backpage arrived—and this afternoon McKenna's office made it public (.pdf).
The tone of Backpage's response to the AGs is respectful ("We are pledged to work cooperatively with law enforcement to protect children"), but also firm in its continued insistence that "any prosecution or threatened prosecution of Backpage.com would infringe free speech rights under the First Amendment since a governmental attempt to shut down all or part of a perfectly lawful web site would silence vast amounts of constitutionally protected free speech."
McKenna is not mollified.
“The letter says that Backpage.com is committed to combating child sex trafficking,” he said in a statement released by his office this afternoon. “But given the number of obviously illegal services advertised on Backpage.com, and the number of minors ensnared by traffickers using the site, we’re quite interested in learning how Backpage.com supports that claim. Attorneys at my office and around the country are now carefully reviewing the materials.”
He added that the number of attroneys general involved has now grown to 51—"representing 48 states and three territories"—and he repeated his call for Backpage to unilaterally shutter its online escort ads.
"The adult services section should be shut down,” McKenna said. “Prostitution disproportionately harms kids, runaways and former victims of child sexual abuse. It’s unfortunate that businesses like Backpage.com profit from that kind of exploitation.”