HOUSTON, TX - Once again, Backpage is the subject of questionable law enforcement practices attempting to push the visibility of criminal activity out of their view instead of utilizing a tool to prevent crime and maybe actually catch criminals.

Today Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested in Houston, TX for conspiracy and pimping a minor after its headquarters in Dallas was raided.

Now before I dive into this pile. I do not, nor does this platform, or any person or entity affiliated with dinbits.com, condone any form of human trafficking for any reason whatsoever. It is a horrific practice and if the claims being made by authorities are true, then the Backpage CEO and possibly others involved (if any) are most certainly going to be behind bars for a very long time and it will prove to be deserved.

That said, it's unlikely that is going to happen because it is unlikely that Carl Ferrer was personally involved in the trafficking of human beings as the Attorney General of Texas and California state.

What They're Saying

Here's a few things being splattered all over the news media in regards to this raid and arrest followed by a sniff of reality. Believe it or not, the mainstream media, thus far, have been fairly kind to bitcoin (by omission).  Bitcoin became the primary source of payment in 2015 after an Illinois Sheriff harassed credit card companies into dropping Backpage. The platform has since been able to enable credit card purchasing for some portions of its service.

1. Attorney General Paxton

"Making money off the backs of innocent human beings by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is not acceptable in Texas,” Attorney General Paxton

Allowing? Who's allowing what here? Is this not the responsibility of law enforcement and the government we have put in place to not-allow this activity?

“I intend to use every resource my office has to make sure those who profit from the exploitation and trafficking of persons are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law"

How about you use every resource your office has to prevent this activity in the first place? If you know where it's being solicited why not use this tool to catch criminals and prevent crime instead of dispersing those engaged in the activity to other formats to the point you're blind.

Profit from the exploitation? Are you going after Apple's CEO? The CEO of Taco Bell? How about Ford, T-Mobile, and Coca-Cola? Pretty much every business in the United States can potentially profit from this. Do you think for one second that Apple's CEO is under some delusion that the iPhone is anti-criminal-activity proof and never used for illegal purposes?

Last time I saw an arrest where they actually caught human traffickers the actual criminals committing the actual crime were driving a white Ford van. Does this mean Ford's CEO is next on the arrest list?

First of all, prior to entry of the Adult section on Backpage where users can post ads ranging from a massage to posting employment opportunities such as a bartender, there's a big fat disclaimer and terms of use that must be agreed to prior to doing anything. This, in its form, is a legally binding contract between the service provider and the user posting the material.


I certainly don't see anything like that when I order a burrito from Taco Bell or visit the morons at the Apple store. Seems to me as if there is more of an effort here to prevent the activity than any other business that may or may not receive funds from the activity.

The fact is that Backpage screens and removes nearly 1 million posted ads per month that are suspected of human trafficking or other illicit activity. They report hundreds of ads to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children each month as well.

Are we to believe that Backpage intentionally provided authorities with evidence of criminal activity that they themselves were directly involved with? I've met some really stupid criminals in my time and there are entire series on television dedicated to the topic. However, never once have I seen any of them voluntarily report their criminal activity to the authorities. This would mean that Carl Ferrar would be possibly the dumbest criminal on planet earth.

It's like with Western Union posting a Money Laundering section on their website and then reporting the activity to Financial Crimes Enforcement Network fully disclosing their involvement in great detail or UPS offering a Drug Smuggling section with a coupon for first time offenders then calling up the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and saying "hey guys, guess what we just did in 4 different countries under your nose".

2. LA Times

The LA Times had this to offer.

prosecutors contend that nearly all of Backpage’s global income derived from its “adult” sections, with ads posted and paid for by users. The ads typically feature nearly nude photos and offer a menu of sex explained in coded language, prosecutors allege

Adult sections are illegal? Did the CEO invent this coded language? Is it a derivative of Na'vi by chance? When users, who have the freedom of speech mind you, post encoded anything, you can pretty much conclude that as an indication that they are aware of the fact that they're illicit advertisement is not welcome on the platform.

Are the prosecutors just being cool and this was leaked as proof for the defense to use? What's the point of this evidence since this only helps the defense because what they fail to mention is that the user posts the ad. Backpage doesn't post, nor is is liable for, any of the content of the posted ad.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 states that. "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.".

If Backpage is successfully prosecuted, free speech may no longer be consider an allowed activity in the United States and just about every single website on earth with a forum would have to be shutdown or risk being subject to arrest for the words written by another person.

Amazon.com and eBay would no longer be able to function, Facebook would be a thing of the past, and Twitter would likely be charged with every terrorist attack. That or a human with knowledge of every language and every form of language encoding, including those not thought up yet would have to review every single word ever written on these platforms.

Say goodbye to Google as well. It returns content from just about every site on earth and posts content on its platform. Are they getting raided next Thursday?

"Backpage describes itself as the second-largest online classified advertising service in the country... " - LA Times

Really? Because on their website they describe themselves as exactly this:

"backpage.com is an interactive computer service that enables access by multiple users and should not be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

3. Carol Robles-Roman of Legal Momentum
"They're like the McDonalds of trafficking. They make it so easy." - Carol Robles-Roman
Wouldn't that be the "Subway of trafficking"? Craiglist discontinued their Adult section.

How easy is it you ask? It's impossible. Despite our efforts to try and order some human trafficking on Backpage, it just wasn't possible. Give it a try for yourself. First of all there wasn't much apparent in form and what was there that might possibly be something (a total guess, there's nothing that says human trafficking anywhere) required calling another number or sending an email to a 3rd party. I also didn't see any way to pay for anything other than passage to post content.

There sure as hell wasn't a $1 menu.

To be honest it's not only impossible, even the activity of posting an advertisement in this adult section is a bitch. You cannot pay with any form of traditional method of payment, you have to pay with bitcoin, you have to agree your not doing anything illegal, your ad is subject to review, and if the ad is suspected of illicit activity, it's yanked at your own expense. Since you have to pay with bitcoin you have to obtain bitcoin, which means if you don't want your identity known you have to pay double the amount of money by using something like a gift card. You cannot purchase bitcoin from backpage so you have to go somewhere else and then come back.

Of all of the classified ad online websites, it is most likely the most difficult place to post a classified ad. It is not "so easy" in comparison. For those familiar with bitcoin already then it might be easier, but still nothing nearly as easy as Craigslist or any number of the other plazzillion classified ad websites.

Roman also states that a successful prosecution of Backpage.com will help eliminate human trafficking from the internet. Can this woman possibly be this naive? That is the exact opposite of what it would do. What is will actually do is take a conglomeration of activity that may lead to the arrest of the actual criminals committing these crimes and drive them to other places on the internet where its not so easily detected.

This doesn't help the situation, it makes it worse. Not to mention you punish thousand of innocent people in the process just so that you have a shiny new line item on a resume to brag about.


4. Attorney General Kamala Harris

“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal,” 

I don't think anyone on earth outside of those involved in such criminal activity would disagree with this statement. However, this is not what Backpage did according to statements made by them over the years..

“Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel.”
Let's take a look at Backpage's design. Here it is:

\

Now lets take a look at other online classified ad websites.

Allinonezone.com


ClassifiedAds.com

Craigslist


The worlds greatest gift to design, I am not, but I do have a two eyeballs and what I see here are four examples of the same damn thing. There is absolutely nothing that is specially designed, formatted, presented, or described that would be any kind of indication that this platform was designed to accomplish the status of "worlds top online brothel".

To me it looks as if they just copied Craigslist and ended up with allot of traffic.

Court documents state the 99% of Backpage revenue come from prostitution and human trafficking being present in the adult section.

Let s take a look at that claim. Here's the Backpage ad distribution as of 10/06/2016.


This is an excerpt of the Houston version of Backpage where Ferrer was arrested. We have a breakdown of 4,495 local ads, 15,932 automotive, 10,319 job offers, 2,655 dating ads, 129 in community, 12,758 in rentals, 3,815 in trade, 1.526 in real estate, and 4,866 service related ads for a grand total of 56,575 ads total.

If that's only 1% then the that means there should be something like 5,657,500 ads in the adult section. There's about 6.5 million people in the Houston so that's almost an ad per person. In 2014 there were 837 arrests in the United States according one FBI report.

Human Trafficking Arrests
Arrests
Arizona
Commercial sex 
0
Inv servitude
3
Guam
Commercial sex 
0
Inv servitude
0
Indiana
Commercial sex 
72
Inv servitude
4
Minnesota
Commercial sex 
30
Inv servitude
0
Missouri
Commercial sex 
8
Inv. servitude
9
Mississippi
Commercial sex 
1
Involuntary servitude
0
Ohio
Commercial sex acts
6
Involuntary servitude
0
Texas
Commercial sex acts
666
Involuntary servitude
25
Utah
Commercial sex acts
0
Involuntary servitude
11
Wyoming
Commercial sex acts
0
Involuntary servitude
2
837

So if there's 5.6 million potential offenses in Texas alone with road-map (Backpage) directly to preventing the crime, then either these numbers are a tad askew, or law enforcement just flat out sucks. Note that the majority of the arrests occurred in Texas and 0 were reported in California so who sucks less is rather apparent.

The point is, there's not that many, in fact there are currently 120 escort ads of which the questionable content is posted. The claim that 99% of the profits are being generated from this activity seems to be a bit unrealistic at best. Even if 99% come from the adult section, simple jobs posting such as that of a bartender in a gentlemen's club qualifies as this revenue.

Guilty or Not Guilty?


It may very well be that Carl Ferrer is guilty of conspiracy and/or human trafficking and if he is then he will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It's going to be difficult however, to prove that Backpage as an organization is guilty of anything when so many attempts to prevent the activity are regularly practiced by the company.

Here's the problem with all of this. This investigation took three years. In three years all authorities have been able to uncover is circumstantial evidence at best. In the court documents it states that they uncovered an email where Ferrer expresses concern over sexual sounding usernames and the possibility of having their credit card merchant services terminated as a result.  This is a valid concern of any business owner, especially one that has been through the scrutiny that Backpage has been. 


Furthermore, how is Backpage suppose to know if any activity as a result of an ad posted by another party who's content directly resulted in illicit activity? This would be required to fit the accusation of their knowledge of these acts. It took authorities in two states and likely millions of dollars in resources to figure this out themselves and there was no evidence presented of anyone being "caught in the act", only circumstantial evidence based on what other people said and by them acting undercover in a manner in which Backpage has no visibility. 

This is not to defend any actions of anyone, just to point out that a service provider can only do their best to try and prevent illicit use of their service. They are not the police and cannot launch investigations that would invade others privacy in an attempt to try and catch criminals in the act of committing crimes themselves.

Backpage accepts a fee for providing an open forum for anyone to post anything they wish to post in the form of a classified ad. It does not solicit, advertise, or create the content and is not affiliated with the content provider in any way. 

Authorities appear to be making an attempt to change federal law and reduce freedoms that are currently a right in the United States.

Be There a Dart Behind the Scenes?

Let us not forget the man who started this mess, Thomas J. Dart. Last year Sheriff Dart allegedly abused his power and harassed credit card companies into dropping Backpage and banning the platform by threatening to start an investigation into the matter. He had absolutely no jurisdiction or authority to do so, but that didn't stop him from making the threats instead of doing police work and trying to apprehend criminals committing crimes.

Dart is no stranger to this type of harassment either, in 2009 he pressured Craiglist and file a lawsuit against them as well.

In both cases, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act prevailed in that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider" under which the following condition must be applicable.


  1. The defendant must be a "provider or user" of an "interactive computer service."
  2. The cause of action asserted by the plaintiff must treat the defendant as the "publisher or speaker" of the harmful information at issue.
  3. The information must be "provided by another information content provider," i.e., the defendant must not be the "information content provider" of the harmful information at issue.

Not to mention the violations of the 4th and 5th amendment. This is federal law and one that Dart repeatedly seems to ignore and then appears butt-hurt when he gets bitch-slapped by the Supreme Court. Just last week the Supreme Court denied his request to lift the restraining order he has been under in regards to Backpage. It's hard to imagine Dart didn't have his hand in the California/Texas case somewhere.

Dart doesn't take to kindly to federal law at all. He seems to make a practice of violating it and getting away with it. In fact. since January, 2015, Dart has been directly named as a defendant in 448 separate federal lawsuits, most having to do with the violation of someones civil rights. (yeah, shocker there) 

In any case, there is no evidence of Dart's involvement this time.

Bee Hive Politics

Authorities seem to have taken a bee hive approach to law enforcement instead of a law enforcement approach to law enforcement. They have allowed themselves to believe that if they kill the queen, the hive will die. The truth is it's more like scratching a raging case of scabies, they might take out a few of them, but they'll spread them everywhere and in a manner that makes them much more difficult to get rid of. 

Then they gloat about it in the news media and make damaging accusations against a company, its employees, shareholders, and executives attaching them to one of the worst crimes imaginable. 

If they're right, then they are certainly to be commended. If there are wrong, then they need to face charges themselves and I don't think they realize how many innocent lives they are damaging with their actions.

Anyone with Backpage ads may want to switch to Craiglist, Allinonezone, ClassifiedAds, or one of the many other online ad services in the meantime. This is not to agree with any of this, but to make sure your business isn't affected in the event Backpage can no longer operate. 

Since yesterday, the number of ads posted in the Houston area went from 56,575 to 9,934.

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