The battle between the US Senate and Backpage.com heated up again this week. Backpage demanded Wednesday that a federal appeals court continue blocking the online classified ad portal from having to comply with a Senate investigation and subpoena into how Backpage conducts its business, including providing the government with documents about the ins and outs of its editorial business model. The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations contends that the site is littered with ads that amount to offering sex services by women and children forced into prostitution, and it wants to know what steps the website is taking, if any, to screen ads posted to its site by third parties.
“…this case is about nothing but editorial judgement,” attorneys for the site’s chief executive officer, Carl Ferrer, told (PDF) the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Wednesday.
The tug of war clearly implicates the site’s First Amendment rights, Backpage said. Backpage said the committee’s subpoena intrudes on its editorial judgement and that the government’s probe is “a limitless fishing expedition.” The government said it has a legitimate interest in cracking down on human exploitation, and it argued that the law provides the committee with subpoena power to investigate matters of public concern
On Sunday, we explored the legal flap between the Senate and Backpage and noted that a federal judge agreed (PDF) with the government’s position and ordered Backpage to comport with the 13-month-old subpoena (PDF). The appeals court, without ruling on the merits, tentatively stayed (PDF) the order last week. The court ordered each side to respond.