Laws written long before the dawn of the Internet age have authorities across the U.S. struggling to prosecute online prostitution rings because of huge loopholes and defense lawyers’ claims that the websites are protected speech, reports the Associated Press, citing a New Mexico case involving a retired professor and former college administrator accused in what police described as an extensive multistate, online prostitution ring.
The two were cleared after a judge ruled that state law said the website they operated didn’t constitute a “house of prostitution,” though investigators said the men used the site to recruit prostitutes and promote prostitution. Legal experts say the problem stemmed from law enforcement officials trying to apply old prostitution laws in a high-tech world. They say it happens in many states, with authorities trying to prosecute websites as “brothels” or pinpoint where free speech ends and the facilitation of a crime begins. The National Conference of State Legislatures says state legislatures aren’t actively working to update prostitution laws. “Sometimes states’ laws are too specific and were written years ago, long before the Internet,” said Scott Cunningham, a Baylor University economics professor. “That’s why we are seeing some successful challenges to laws when websites are involved.”