Are Tech Companies Trying to Derail Sex-Trafficking Bill?

Last month, tech companies, anti-sex-trafficking advocates, prosecutors, and legislators celebrated a hardwon compromise on a bill designed to help prosecutors and victims pursue sites such as Backpage.com that facilitate online sex trafficking. Now that consensus may be in jeopardy amid a controversial proposed amendment to the House version of the same bill, which had 170 cosponsors and was expected to sail through without incident.

Both bills had focused on altering Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants websites immunity for material posted by others. Those bills would remove the liability shield for “knowingly” publishing material related to sex trafficking.

The new proposal would only remove the shield for publishing with “reckless disregard” for sex trafficking, a tougher legal standard to prove. It would also create a new crime under the Mann Act, an infamous 1910 law also known as the White Slavery Act, for using a website to promote or facilitate prostitution. Anti-sex-trafficking advocates say looping in the Mann Act introduces a new element that could upset the delicate compromise; they also fear it will hurt the bill’s chances of becoming law, because groups like Black Lives Matter believe the Mann Act has been applied discriminatorily and should be repealed.

The advocates suspect tech-industry lobbyists are behind the new approach. In late November, more than 30 anti-sex-trafficking groups and activists, including Rights4Girls, Shared Hope International, Consumer Watchdog, and Cindy McCain sent a letter to members of the House to “express our objection to recent efforts by some in the tech sector to undermine this proposed legislation.” On Monday evening, the same group sent another letter addressed to the ranking members of the Judiciary Committee, ahead of a planned Tuesday committee meeting to mark up the new bill.

Although the new letter does not mention the tech industry’s role, some advocates point out that the language in the amendment closely mirrors a suggestion made by Chris Cox, a former congressman and lobbyist who serves as outside counsel for NetChoice, an advocacy group funded in part by Google. NetChoice declined to say whether Google was one of its larger donors, but noted that it has two dozen members. “We don’t speak for any one member, not do we represent any members,” spokesperson Carl Szabo, the group’s vice president, told WIRED.

Advocates also point to an email from a lawyer for the Judiciary Committee as another sign that that tech firms may have been involved. They believe the Nov. 8 email from Margaret Barr was intended for tech industry lobbyists, but mistakenly reached additional recipients. In the email, Barr outlines the changes to the bill, then writes that the committee believes the new language “will sufficiently protect your clients from criminal and civil liability, while permitting bad actors to be held accountable.” The advocates think Barr was addressing tech lobbyists because the initial opposition to the bill from companies like Google was driven by concerns about liability. Barr referred questions a spokesperson for the Judiciary Committee, who did not respond to a request for comment.

The new approach was introduced by Representative Ann Wagner (R-Missouri). Wagner’s office says the changes were made with the support of the Department of Justice, local district attorneys, and advocates. Her office provided a letter of endorsement from the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys and two nonprofits that support the new approach: Freedom Coalition, a right-wing Christian organization that is not focused on human trafficking, and US Institute Against Human Trafficking, another faith-based group.

In a statement to WIRED, Wagner says, “I am adamant that Congress passes legislation that will prevent victimization, not only via Backpage.com but also the hundreds of other websites that are selling America’s most vulnerable children and adults.”

Senate sponsors of the bill do not support the changes. In a statement to WIRED, Senator Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic cosponsor of the Senate bill, says, “This legislation’s priorities are shamefully misplaced. There is no good reason to proceed with a proposal that is opposed by the very survivors it claims to support, particularly when the alternative is a carefully crafted measure supported by all major stakeholders.”

Senator Rob Portman, the Republican cosponsor, says the new proposal “ is opposed by advocates because they’re concerned it is actually worse for victims than current law.”

The Internet Association, a key tech trade group, switched its view to support the Senate bill, known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, shortly after representatives of Google, Facebook, and Twitter faced two days of criticism from lawmakers for their roles in enabling Russian meddling in 2016 election. People familiar with the matter said Facebook was central to the group switching its position, and that Google went along reluctantly.

A few days after Internet Association announced its support, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote a Facebook post in support of the bill. Facebook declined to say if it is supporting the new House approach, known as Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.

In a statement to WIRED, Facebook said: “Facebook prohibits child exploitation of any kind, and we support giving victims of these horrible crimes more tools to fight platforms that support sex traffickers.”

After the Internet Association endorsed the bill, Google assured Senate offices that it would stop lobbying efforts to derail the bill, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“I hope Google is not working at cross purposes with the survivors who are desperately seeking redress,” says Mary Mazzio, a filmmaker who has been active in the effort to hold websites more accountable for trafficking on their pages.

The Department of Justice and Google did not respond to requests for comment.

Lauren Hersh, a former prosecutor and national director of World Without Exploitation, a national coalition of 130 groups, met with lawmakers Monday to tell them that she and other advocates do not support the House bill. “We just want to slow this process down in the House. Our ask is to not have this go to Judiciary [Tuesday]. All the steps that were taken to [achieve] compromise on SESTA, we want that to happen here.”

McLaren’s Senna Supercar Delivers Wild Efficiency, expenses a Million Dollars

Usually, once you save money than the usual million dollars on something, you receive a lot of it. A whole lot of diamond necklace, a whole lot of beluga caviar, a lot of Instagram followers. But if you’re purchasing the McLaren Senna, you don’t get much supercar anyway.

Named for popular Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, McLaren’s latest vehicle is an exercise in million-dollar minimalism. No fancy features. No air-con system. No cargo area—just enough room to keep two helmets and racing matches, so you’re prepared when you reach the track. Barely sufficient leather-based to pay for the seats, dashboard, and part airbags.

Such luxuries are banished through the Senna since they all share a terrible trait: They have mass. So when you’re making that which you call “the ultimate road-legal track automobile,” mass may be the enemy. Every ounce dilutes the effectiveness of the motor, puts more strain on the brake system, and makes getting around corners a little bit tougher.

What exactly do you obtain once you hand McLaren a million bucks (base cost) the Senna? Very little automobile, maybe, but a crap ton of performance. The 4.0-liter V8 engine that sits behind both carbon fibre seats creates 789 braking system horsepower. That’s not exactly up to a monstrosity such as the wheelie-popping Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. But because the Senna weighs only 2,461 pounds (the Demon weighs 4,500), every pony packs nearly dual the punch. McLaren hasn’t revealed details such as for instance a 0 to 60 mph time or top rate, but anything above 3 seconds or below 200 miles per hour could be, well, embarrassing. The Senna promises exactly the same power to weight ratio as Ferrari’s likewise priced Laferrari, which does the sprint in 2.4 seconds and reaches 205 miles per hour.

If you’re wondering why this million dollar baby—of which McLaren makes simply 500—looks want it destroyed a fight to a woodchipper, the answer is aerodynamics. The vents and atmosphere intakes carved all over the Senna exist to funnel atmosphere this way which. That includes drawing hot air from the radiators and motor bay, but the majority from it is all about creating downforce. Whenever you create anywhere near this much energy, the key is not reducing drag, it is manipulating the air to push the car into the bottom, so that it does not lift in to the air. Repeat this right, additionally the automobile makes you feel just like you are traveling. Fail, and you have a poorly created airplane. That explains the humongous back spoiler, which towers four feet over the ground.

The McLaren Senna is likely to make its public debut during the Geneva engine Show in March, to expect more details early in the entire year. But understand this: If you’re one of the 500 people who get to just take one home (distribution times TBA), you are guaranteed you’ll have a great deal of fun—or at least attract a whole lot of attention.


Supercar Superstars

This Scientist Wants to Bring ‘Star Trek’ Values to Congress

Vulcanologist Jess Phoenix never ever anticipated to be engaged in politics. Until recently the woman life revolved around science—traveling the planet to examine various volcanoes and operating an academic nonprofit. Nevertheless the ecological record of the Trump management has inspired the girl to run for Congress.

“These dudes are essentially gutting every ecological security that existed,” Phoenix says in Episode 284 of Geek’s Guide toward Galaxy podcast. “It’s a trend we must stop now. We can’t allow this carry on.”

Phoenix is certainly one of a growing quantity of researchers that operating for public office, spurred on by the team 314 Action, which assists teach boffins how exactly to organize a political campaign. There’s an increasing recognition one of them that way too many elected officials are ignorant of fundamental technology, which the only real solution is for experts to get in there and do a better job.

“The science candidates will probably be in favor of items that are scientifically demonstrated to work,” Phoenix says. “That’s the thing that unites all of us.”

She also offers one benefit that sets the lady apart—the help of Star Trek actors like Tim Russ, Robert Picardo, and John Billingsley, most of whom have starred in her campaign videos. “John saw the correlation between my jobs about issues and also the celebrity Trek world,” Phoenix states, “and how a ideals of Gene Roddenberry’s future harmonized with what I wanted to fight for.”

She says that as vulcanologist, celebrity Trek sources are a fact of life, since virtually everybody else she meets makes a joke about the woman studying Vulcans. The woman standard response is always to supply the Vulcan salute and state “live long and prosper.”

“Its convenient because it’s one thing we actually rely on,” she says. “i really do wish people to live very long and prosper, so I’d say it is a fairly universally OK message.”

Listen to the complete interview with Jess Phoenix in Episode 284 of Geek’s Guide toward Galaxy (above). And look for some features from the conversation below.

Jess Phoenix on Yellowstone:

“When it does erupt once again, it will devastate the usa. It’ll fundamentally go east of Wyoming, and it surely will fundamentally go entirely to Washington, DC. Ashfall was found—from previous eruptions—all just how over in Virginia. So it has got the possible to simply be massively devastating. In Southern California we’dn’t get the maximum amount of ashfall, but demonstrably having 75 per cent of this nation hidden under [ash] would cause serious problems. We don’t need to worry about Yellowstone killing us in Southern Ca, nevertheless the remaining portion of the country? Sorry. An eruption that size, a real supervolcano eruption, would devastate not only the US however the entire world. It could screw up economies all around the globe. So it’s not a thing we should happen any time in the future.”

Jess Phoenix regarding the Core:

“I was fundamentally in agony through that entire film. That stuff doesn’t take place. There are not any giant crystal caverns in Earth’s crust. Oh guy. I mean, you will find crystal caverns that we find out about in Mexico, but that’s different. That film made me somewhat crazy, because I was a buddy of somebody whom knew the writer, so we got to visit a day-or-two-early testing. And also this was at Massachusetts, of most places—I don’t understand how we had this connection. But I didn’t understand the journalist, and additionally they stated following the movie, ‘Do you wish to get fulfill him?’ and I also was like, ‘No. Sorry. Now i might be too critical. I’d need to wait.’ I became not that mature at that age either, and I also was exactly like, ‘Oh my god, the science ended up being awful!’”

Jess Phoenix on weather modification:

“My dad ended up being quite definitely into ‘Oh, weather change is not real’ a few years back. And I would say, ‘Dad, I’m the scientist. I went along to school because of this. There’s no conspiracy.’ But then I’m really encouraged, because on their Facebook web page he shared a thing that I did, among the news appearances that we had—i do believe perhaps it had been once I had been on CNN Overseas speaing frankly about why we need researchers in federal government, world scientists in particular—and somebody on their page stated, ‘Oh John, it is only a conspiracy. Stick To The cash.’ And my father had been like, ‘Well, my daughter’s not getting reduced for this, therefore I think there’s something to it. I know she stands company inside her convictions’—or one thing compared to that effect. So I think he’s starting to observe that [it’s real].”

Jess Phoenix on fundraising:

“Some [scientists] have gotten fairly wealthy patenting their discoveries, however for many scientists—particularly Earth scientists—your biggest disadvantage is supposed to be which you don’t have massive, built-in donor system. Because boffins haven’t been politically active. Therefore if I were to call up—and I’ve done this—if we had been to contact 10, or 20, or 50 of my medical colleagues and state, ‘Hey, subscribe to my governmental campaign,’ they’re maybe not regularly doing that. Attorneys are accustomed to donating with other solicitors running for workplace, as well as the exact same goes for businesspeople, simply because they constitute 80-plus % of Congress now. There’s one physicist in Congress—Bill Foster in Illinois—and that’s it. To Help You see we have a tough line to hoe.”

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San Francisco Plan to Adjust Parking Prices Based on Demand

Let’s say you have to run an errand, a small-ish one. You’re stopping by your doctor’s office to pick up a prescription; you gotta return a regretted online purchase at the post office. How do you get there? A bunch of tiny factors contribute to your decision, but if you have a car one of the biggest is probably: Can I park?

Thousands, maybe millions of people in your city are making small choices like yours every day. If parking is abundant and free, more people might drive, creating traffic in the process. If it’s scarce or expensive, they might choose alternatives—walking, cycling, hopping on the bus.

Thus, the way your city deals with parking indelibly shapes its character—how people live inside it every day. That’s why you should pay attention to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s new parking meter proposal. If the agency has its way, SF will become the first major American city to adjust the prices at all of its parking meters based on demand.

“We should be charging the right price for parking given the block and given the time of day,” says Hank Willson, who manages parking policy for the SFMTA. The proposal, which goes before the city council on Tuesday, would expand a program that’s already in place at 7,000 of the city’s 28,000 parking meters. It breaks every day into three time bands, and the agency would adjust the prices on each block and band based on usage data collected by the city’s wirelessly connected parking meters. If you’re parking on a popular bar- and restaurant-packed block on a Friday night, you can expect to pay more than you would to hang in the same spot on a sleepy Monday morning.

Do not worry about airline-style price gouging at peak times, says SFMTA. The agency will give plenty of warning of pricing changes, and prices will only fluctuate by 25 cents each month, tops. There will also be a meter ceiling and floor: You won’t pay less than 50 cents an hour, or more than $8.

The goal is to ensure that parking spaces are used and that anyone willing to pay a meter can find an empty spot. “If you price it too high, then people will stay away: They won’t come to a neighborhood and they won’t spend money,” says Willson. “If you price it too low, that leads to more circling for parking, more congestion, and more greenhouse gases.”

Cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle have experimented with dynamic parking pricing before, and the research shows that these schemes tend to work—to a degree. San Francisco’s own experimentation with the idea goes back to 2008. That year, the federal government wrote the city a $20 million check to launch a five-year pilot project focusing on a third of the city’s meters along some of its more highly trafficked corridors.

The experiment worked just fine. According to observations by SFTMA, circling for parking sank by about 40 percent in the affected areas. Double parking dropped, and buses had a moderately easier time piloting through affected blocks than before. Plus, the agency reached its parking spot occupancy goals about a third of the time, meaning San Franciscans were using the meters more frequently overall. (Though the agency says the pilot was not about increasing revenue, it made an extra $2 million in net parking money a year.) The proposal before city council would expand this project to the rest of the city.

Still, don’t expect too much from a parking meter pricing scheme like this one. Parking may shape a city, but this project only affects the city’s metered parking—about 10 percent of the total spaces—and a non-insignificant percentage of drivers don’t pay for parking ever, either because they’re scofflaws or because they have special permits or licenses that allow them to park without ever digging change out of the glove compartment. (San Francisco’s meters also take credit cards.) The plan might also be more effective at freeing up spaces if the city nixed the price floors and ceilings and allowed the market to do its work—but residents would almost certainly quash that.

And parking meters alone can’t solve the Bay Area’s horrific traffic problems. (The road analytics company Inrix finds San Franciscans spend about 83 hours in traffic each year.) “Road congestion is caused by the road not being priced accurately, not parking,” says Michael Manville, an urban planner who studies transportation and land use at UCLA. “In a dense urban area, you could have parking pricing reduce cruising for spots and therefore take some people off the road and get them into the parking space. But the road in San Francisco is still in high demand, so there’s no reason to think the road won’t fill in behind them.” Basically: There are too many cars in the city for isolated parking programs to make a really major dent.

If the plan is approved, SFTMA says they could be ready to roll out demand-responsive metering to the whole city as soon as mid-January. “We’ve got the technology in place, we’ve got the know-how, and we’ve already seen the results,” Willson says. If you’ve needed a little push to get on your friendly neighborhood bus, this might be it.


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