Craigslist suing South Carolina AG

May 20, 2009 7:12:39 PM PDT
Under enormous pressure, Craigslist took a major step Wednesday to do something about online prostitution through its Web site. Craigslist finally made the change it promised, taking down its "erotic services" category, but it also fired back at the South Carolina attorney general.

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Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster says the attorney general from South Carolina is conducting a witch hunt, singling out his company from other similar Internet providers.

Craigslist has shut down the "erotic services" category, replacing it with a new one where the company says the ads will be monitored closely.

San Francisco police vice crimes Captain Denis O'Leary went on Craigslist Wednesday, the first day its "erotic services" category was replaced with a new area called "adult services."

The company said it would monitor every posting in the category before it went online.

The ads may not be as blatant as before, but O'Leary already noticed suspicious postings.

"Nina Luscious" promises a full body massage in Marin but she has a New York area code. Another posting promises "a sweet treat for a nice day."

"It could mean she likes candy, it could mean a lot of things," O'Leary said.

Craigslist says the changes are a good compromise between law enforcement and legitimate users.

Its most persistent critic has been South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster. He has threatened to prosecute Craigslist executives for aiding prostitution.

"It's beyond the pale and we would like to hear an apology," Buckmaster said.

Buckmaster talked to ABC7 earlier this week. Not only is he demanding an apology, but Craigslist has now filed suit in federal court to keep McMaster from pursuing criminal charges.

"Not only are the charges he's leveled unwarranted by the facts, but they're clearly unconstitutional," Buckmaster said.

Buckmaster is referring to a federal law which says Internet service providers are not responsible for content on their sites.

Internet legal experts agree.

"Craigslist has said, 'you know what, we're protected by the law and we're finally going to make a stand,'" Electronic Frontier Foundation spokesperson Matt Zimmerman said.

McMaster says the lawsuit is defensive legal action and he calls it a victory.

"They've shut down the site we've asked them to, they're screening the other ads manually and they're actually going out now to seek protection from the court; I think it indicates that we've made progress in South Carolina," McMaster said.

If the court agrees with Craigslist in its lawsuit, legal experts say it would re-affirm the 1996 federal law which said interactive computer services are not responsible for content posted by third parties.

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