A federal court has ordered Backpage.com to comply with a U.S. Senate subpoena seeking information about how the company prevents online sex trafficking. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) tells Missourinet that Backpage, which has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, is appealing the decision.

Missouri U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D) Photo courtesy of clairemccaskill.com

Missouri U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D)
Photo courtesy of clairemccaskill.com

“I think they (Backpage) are anxious to not allow us to paw around in their business model,” says McCaskill. “I have to believe that that is at least partially because they are worried about the consequences both from a public inspection of what they have done and also as to the sustainability of their business model.”

A U.S. Senate subcommittee, led by McCaskill and her colleague Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), began an investigation of online human trafficking in April 2015. With estimated annual revenues of more than $150 million, McCaskill says Backpage, a classified ad website, is a market leader in commercial sex advertising.

“We want to know their policies and procedures are. We want to know what they’re telling their employees that are placing these ads on behalf of what I would certainly call criminals, since they are placing children for sale,” says McCaskill.

After Backpage and its CEO, Carl Ferrer, refused to comply earlier this year with a subpoena issued by McCaskill and Portman, the Senate passed a civil contempt resolution by a vote of 96-0 to authorize a lawsuit against Backpage. The last time the U.S. Senate has held anyone in contempt was in 1995.

“I think it’s terribly depressing that we had to go to the courts to enforce a Congressional subpoena in a very important investigation,” says McCaskill. “It’s still is a head scratcher why there would be any company that wouldn’t want to fully cooperate when our goal here is to protect children.”

McCaskill expects the court to decide within a few days if it will grant Backpage’s appeal.