Backpage.com, a popular classified ads website that has been linked to illegal sex trafficking, was seized and shut down by the Justice Department Friday.
"Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized as part of an enforcement action by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division," a statement on Backpage reads. The U.S. Department of Justice's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the Attorney General's Office in California and Texas were also involved in Friday's maneuver.
The Backpage seizure comes two weeks after Craigslist eliminated their personal ads following Congress' passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which repealed a previous law that provided "legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims."
In a statement to Buzzfeed following the seizure, a Justice Department spokesperson said, "The Court has ruled that the case remains sealed and we have nothing to report today."
Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota tweeted that the enforcement action was the result of the impending passage of Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), the Senate-approved version of FOSTA that awaits President Trump's signature.
"Today, Backpage was shutdown. It’s a huge step. Now no child will be sold for sex through this website—not in ND, the US, or around the world. Proud of the 2 yr long Senate investigation I was part of that helped lead to this point. And next week #SESTA will be signed into law," Heitkamp wrote.
"I’m not naïve. I know these crimes will continue elsewhere, but working to stop every platform for sex trafficking, especially some of the largest ones like Backpage, must continue. Today's action is critical progress for ending slavery and keeping our communities strong and safe."
The Arizona Republic also reported that government agencies had raided the Arizona home of Backpage's founder Michael Lacey and arrested him on unspecified charges.