Thursday, April 6, 2017

CA A-G's 'abusive' prosecution of Backpage

First Amendment Lawyers Ask New Calif. Attorney General to Drop 'Abusive' Crusade Against Backpage and User-Info Dragnet - Hit & Run : - Elizabeth Nolan Brown:

March 16, 2017. - "The First Amendment Lawyers Association (FALA) is asking new Attorney General of California Xavier Becerra to end the 'abuse of governmental power' perpetuated by predecessor Kamala Harris against current and former executives of the classified-ad site Backpage.

"On March 14, FALA — a nonprofit membership association launched in the late '60s that has boasted some of the country's top constitutional lawyers — sent a letter to Becerra condemning 'the abusive prosecution of individuals associated with the online classified advertising website, and also the use of expansive search warrants seeking vast amounts of constitutionally-protected material, including personally identifiable information about all of the website's users'....

"Harris' crusade against Backpage began last fall, when she had current chief executive Carl Ferrer and former owners Michael Lacey and Jim Larson arrested for pimping and conspiracy. The premise of the charges was that Backpage — a user-generated advertising site much like Craigslist — received payment for 'escort' ads that eventually resulted in prostitution, thereby making Ferrer, Lacey, and Larkin the 'pimps." But it's an argument that California Judge Michael Bowman rejected, on the grounds that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) prohibits the criminal prosecution of web publishers for content posted by users....

"As the FALA letter points out, 'at least seven other courts have expressly rejected the assumption underlying the California indictment that ads for escorts or those posted in an adult services section involve illegal speech, and none have concluded otherwise'....

"But it didn't stop there: after Bowman's ruling, Harris' office filed another criminal complaint against Backpage.... Note that the normal process would have been for the state to appeal Bowman's final ruling, but instead, Harris ... tried to simply bring the same failed criminal case in another court. This sort of 'forum shopping' is 'a gross abuse of prosecutorial discretion and a serious violation fo the First Amendment,' FALA alleges.' And that's still not all:
a subpoena was served on that calls for the production of massive amounts of information for a several-year period, including copies of all advertisements posted (in all content categories), all billing records, the identities of all of the website's users and their account histories, all internal communications, and even the source code for the operation of the website. This goes beyond the despised 'General Warrants" that prompted the Constitution's Framer's to adopt the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches, and violates numerous Supreme Court decisions limiting such demands for materials protected by the First Amendment."
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