WASHINGTON (Press Release) – Today, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who lead the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, announced that they have won a historic victory in their contempt action against Backpage.com and its CEO, Carl Ferrer.
“Today the court agreed with our argument that Backpage must comply with a lawful subpoena that carries with it the unanimous support of the full U.S. Senate,” said McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor. “This is a critical, historic next step in our continuing effort to get to the bottom of Backpage’s business practices and policies for preventing the despicable crime of sex trafficking of children on the internet.”
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the thousands of innocent victims of sex trafficking across the United States,” Portman said. “This is the first time in more than 20 years that the Senate has had to enforce a subpoena in court, but we are pleased that the court has vindicated the Senate’s constitutional right to gather information to help us fight the scourge of online human trafficking. We are committed to continuing our bipartisan investigation into this matter, and look forward to reviewing the subpoenaed documents that Backpage has thus far withheld from Congress.”
The Subcommittee began its bipartisan investigation of human trafficking on the Internet in April 2015. With estimated annual revenues of more than $150 million, Backpage is a market leader in commercial sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including the trafficking of children. After Backpage refused to comply with a subpoena issued by McCaskill and Portman, the Senate passed a civil contempt resolution by a vote of 96 to 0 to authorize a lawsuit against Backpage.
Today, U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer ordered Ferrer to comply with the subpoena and hand over documents within 10 days. Judge Collyer’s opinion called Backpage’s refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena “untenable and without legal support,” and concluded that “[u]nderstanding the magnitude of Internet sex trafficking and how to stop it substantially outweighs Mr. Ferrer’s undefined interests.”
Last year, the Subcommittee issued a staff report about Backpage’s activities and a held a hearing at which Ferrer refused to appear.