Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee thinks the government has the right to impose user screening requirements and fines on any website which doesn't response to some types of abuse complaints within 24 or 72 hours. His ridiculous bill, which he calls the "Preventing Rampant Online Technological Exploitation and Criminal Trafficking Act" or "PROTECT Act" is packaged as a much needed solution to child and revenge pyrography but if left unchecked it could create a legal framework capable of being used to fine websites huge amounts of money for not prescreening user uploads or responding to complaints within specific timeframes. It is also an overly broad attempt to violate the First Amendment rights of webmasters by forcing them to engage in speech against their will. If it becomes law it will force sites like PornHub to leave the country or change to the point of being unrecognizable, it will cost people their jobs, and it will put the privacy of adult entertainers at risk.
The most obvious flaw of the PROTECT Act in its current form is its failure to distinguish between porn sites and regular websites. While the bill claims to primarily target popular adult platforms like PornHub, it defines a "covered provider" as "an interactive computer service that hosts or makes available to the general public pornographic images." That definition does not distinguish between sites that intentionally host adult content and those that don't. One could conceivably expose this website to a fine simply by uploading a pornographic image and reporting it for not having verified the age of the user or the consent of all depicted persons. Then they could get the site into even more trouble simply by submitting a removal request if the site doesn't process the request in less than 72 hours. I would no longer feel free to leave town on a 4 day weekend without worrying that somebody might upload a nude and complain at a time when I won't be able to do anything about it in 72 hours.
Even in cases where someone could conceivable find time to respond to complaints withing 72 hours, that time frame is still unreasonable. First, it is often best to wait at least one week before responding to user complaints in revenge cases. If you remove revenge posts too quickly you're liable to agitate the authors and provoke more posts on platforms outside your control. A week gives people plenty of time to calm down before you shut them up. Often they calm down enough to remove their own work which is how stuff usually gets removed from my platforms. Forcing people to wait also forces them to figure things out for themselves like how to contact the author and complain to the source of their problem directly. I learned over a decade ago that if you wait at least a week before reviewing allegedly abusive URLs that a good many of them will likely be gone by then. Then you can focus on the rest. Responding within 72 hours would essentially require a response to every complaint no matter what and inevitably lead to displaced users uploading elsewhere. Anyone so pissed off at somebody that they'd upload a naked picture of them needs a cooling off period.
Dr. Charlotte Laws recently described angry user displacement as a "seesaw" effect because "People [can get] very angry when they're silenced, and it makes them more ferocious in their views" (https://thehill.com/policy/technology/3642685-why-anti-trans-web-forum-kiwi-farms-was-erased-from-the-internet/). Laws was commenting on the takedown of KiwiFarms.net which was allegedly nothing more than a harassment site where people's names would go up and trolls would stalk them. I personally signed up for KiwiFarms to chime in on a discussion about a New York Times piece which included what I believe to be a false accusation blaming this website for harassing phone calls a business received (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/07/us/defund-police-seattle-protests.html). If anyone made any harassing phone calls in that case it was probably Antifa. Wasn't long before users started calling me a homosexual and telling me to kill myself. Displaced KiwiFarms users are now resorting to sites like Gab.com and 8kun.top to express themselves. If PornHub is required to check identification cards then amateur pornographers will surely turn to other platforms. Those platforms will likely be foreign porn sites and non-pornographic sites vulnerable to abuse.
The PROTECT Act threatens to fine websites $10,000 per image for each day a non-age verified image remains on the site after the site has been informed of the violation by the Attorney General and 24 hours has passed. This would essentially force webmasters to check their email every day which is completely unreasonable. Imagine leaving town for just two days only to find a $10,000 fine waiting when you get back just because some government punk emailed you a notice over 24 hours earlier. Unless of course the government only considers you on notice if they can prove you opened and read their email, you know they will try to consider people on notice when they send it. It should be a strong defense that proof of an email being sent is not proof that its receipt is known to the recipient. This is especially true with notices submitted to commercial websites via contact forms because of other business and spam. I have a couple sites that have gotten so much spam submitted via their contact forms that I've missed many complaints just because I didn't notice them amongst the spam. I tried using re-captcha but the spam bots can solve it now. There is a good chance of webmasters not noticing abuse complaints due to spam alone. When a webmaster knows about child porn being on their site they are obligated to remove it promptly, but you can't go around expecting someone to check their email every day, notice every abuse complaint in their inbox, or hire an employee. I always remove porn when I see it because I don't run any porn sites, but if I did there is no way I could reasonably be expected to know about such notices within 24 hours without working 7 days a week or hiring someone and being lucky enough to notice every abuse complaint I receive.
The PROTECT Act threatens to fine webmasters $5,000 for each day they don't display a "prominently visible notice on the website or mobile application of the covered platform that provides instructions on how a person can request the removal of a pornographic image." The government cannot force people to say anything they don't want to say. Telling every website to display a notice constitutes forced speech in violation of the First Amendment. If Senator Lee wants to violate my First Amendment rights I'll exercise them in other ways that he will notice and will not like.
The PROTECT Act would require every website operator to have at least one employee, "(2) designate 1 or more employees of the operator to be responsible for handling requests for removal of pornographic images." That is completely unreasonable. Website operators capable and willing to respond promptly to complaints would be forced to hire an employee just to say that there is at least one employee of the operator responsible for handling removal requests. Nobody would be able to launch a website without hiring an employee. Nobody really needs employees just to run a website. You might need employees to make a website great, but not to keep it online. If you have the right skillset you can run as many sites as you want without having to hire anyone. I have such a skillset. I was able to run this site from jail simply by hosting it offshore and making sure it was paid up. Being subjected to an unconstitutional order from the District Court prohibiting me from having anything to do with this site as a condition of pre-trial detention changed nothing. You can forget about anyone launching a website anonymously without breaking the law simply because you can't hire someone without being required by law to report what you pay them to the IRS. It would create so much paperwork it might as well require webmasters to register with the government like sex offenders.
Even if the bill is amended to restrict covered platforms to just those which allow users to upload porn without violating their terms of service, the timeframes and requirement to hire an employee alone will bankrupt most small to medium sized sites based in the United States. They would be forced to choose between shutting down, leaving the country, or violating the law. That last one could potentially be accomplished with the right combination of offshore servers and bank accounts or foreign trusts, but it would require the operator to live without seizable assets in the states. Leaving the country would be much better than staying here and operating illegally. PornHub could easily afford to pay off the government in many shithole countries. They would simply uproot and move to wherever they can keep operating as usual.
If U.S. based porn sites like PornHub were to shut down or be limited to just verified content a huge void would be created. A void which could easily be filled by opportunistic American expat pedophile sex tourists in third world countries. Would you rather PornHub be replaced by something new run by a pedophile in a place like Cambodia? There are places where the worst they have to worry about if they get caught raping a child is a year in jail (https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/us-man-sentenced-1-year-abusing-boys). The authorities in such places are not likely to do much if anything about a site like PornHub even if it stopped removing child porn. They'd likely accept bribes and let the webmaster do whatever he wants. If you have enough money there is always a shithole somewhere willing to let you live like a king for the right price. At least sites like PornHub are run by people willing to take down child and revenge pornography when they find out about it. That could easily change if people were forced offshore to upload anonymously.
Anonymity is extremely important to many adult entertainers. They don't use their real names for a reason. Imagine what would happen if a site like PornHub gets hacked and the real names of their users dumped online with images of their identification. They'd always be worried about that leak showing up on Google again. A major porn site will get hacked eventually. Having to submit identification with your homemade porn will have a significant chilling effect on legitimate expression.
Fortunately, I don't see this bill ever becoming law in its current form. I think the broad language will be corrected so that it only targets sites that knowingly and intentionally host adult content. However, that still leaves the outrageous timeframes, notices, and hiring requirements. Historically, the government has limited imposing removal requirements on websites to cases involving government data like public records. Background check websites don't remove stuff for free out of the kindness of their hearts. They remove it because they're trafficking in public records obtained from the government and subject to restrictions on how they can be used which includes opt outs. There is no such nexus between porn and the government, so the government has no right to tell copyright holders what to do with their own work. When someone uploads child or revenge pornography the webmasters are victims too. They have to take time out of their day to look at the stuff and remove it because someone else abused their platform. I've never enjoyed removing revenge porn because I am forced to look at it. I voluntarily take time out of my day to take it down just like many other webmasters do. There is only one person responsible for uploading something.
The government always targets the worst in society when they want to see what rights we will let them take away from us. They know nobody wants to be seen as advocating for sex offenders so they often target them first. If they succeed then they establish that certain rights can be taken away under some circumstances. Then they will try to establish connections between those circumstances and yours until suddenly you're losing a right you never though you could lose because they took the same right away from a sex offender, so the court now has discretion to take it away under broader circumstances. I read a good example of that in prison a few years ago. There was a law passed which allowed sexually dangerous persons to to be civilly committed following the end of their federal prison terms until deemed safe for re-entry by a psychologist. When a fellow convict pointed that out to me I was like "what are you implying?" Then he pointed out how the law could easily be amended to drop the word "sexually" from "sexually dangerous persons" so that "dangerous persons" deemed "dangerous" by psychology for any reason could be civilly committed instead of released. He was right, so even though I hate sex offenders, I am against civilly committing them because the same logic could be broadly applied to mental illnesses and personality disorders (https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL34068/6).
In this case they are using extreme examples to establish that they can fine websites for not responding to abuse complaints in some cases even those that don't involve content created by the government. If something like this ever becomes law and holds up in court, they will say, "see we did it with revenge porn" then they will do it to you. Violating people's constitutional rights, invading their privacy, taking jobs away, and creating opportunities for pedophiles overseas is no way for Michael Shumway Lee to make America great again.