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FBI shuts down website (Representational picture) Reuters

Backpage.com, a popular classified website operating in the United States was seized and shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Friday, April 6, following allegations of sexual trafficking facilitation against the platform. FBI agents confirmed that raids were carried out in the residence of Michael Lacey, the founder of Backpage.

"Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized as part of an enforcement action," says the banner that popped up on the site posted by the FBI, US Postal Inspection Service and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.

Backpage.com under the scanner for many years

Backpage.com has been under the scanner of FBI for the past few years. The investigation agency has been monitoring the website's adult ads page after several allegations were made that it was acting as a platform to "facilitate" sex trafficking.

The website's adult ads page allows users to post about escort services, and investigators revealed that many of the advertisements on this page were actually for minor girls.

Earlier, a two year Senate investigation which probed into online sex trafficking had found that Backpage.com played a key role in aiding sex trafficking of women and young girls. As the investigation report surfaced in January 2017, Backpage.com shut down its adult ads section.

Years of legal battle and finally the 'End'

Backpage.com has also faced several legal hassles in the past and was largely protected by Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. This act offers legal protection to online companies from being liable to contents generated by its users. Most online companies who engage in malicious activities often use this law as a shield. However, the law does not protect the company if content related to child pornography is published by the site.

U.S. Senator John McCain (Arizona) issued a statement following the shut down of the website sayiing that the seizure of Backpage.com marks an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking.

"The seizure of the malicious sex marketplace Backpage.com marks an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking. This builds on the historic effort in Congress to reform the law that for too long has protected websites like Backpage from being held liable for enabling the sale of young women and children. Today's action sends a strong message to Backpage and any other company facilitating online sex trafficking that they will be held accountable for these horrific crimes," said McCain.

Last month, the Senate had approved a bipartisan legislation called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. This legislation created an exception to section 230, allowing the victims of sexual trafficking to sue the websites accountable for facilitating abuse. Soon after the Senate approval, Craigslist, the competitor of Backpage.com closed their personal ads section.