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State AG ultimatum to Craigslist: Pull racy ads or face prosecution

S.C. AG wants sexy ads removed by Friday; another says to shut down 'online brothel'

May 6, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Legal pressure is mounting on Craigslist Inc.

After officials of the online classified advertising site were called to a meeting with attorneys general from three states yesterday, the top law enforcement officer of another state issued an ultimatum to the company: Pull graphic pornographic material and prostitution ads from the site or face prosecution.

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster sent a letter to Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist, saying that the company has not installed sufficient safeguards to keep its site from being used as a "vehicle to advertise or solicit prostitution." McMaster added that he's concerned about the easy accessibility of "graphic pornographic pictures" on the site.

"Many of the classified and communication services on the Craigslist site provide the public with a valuable service," wrote McMaster. "However, it appears that the management of Craigslist has knowingly allowed the site to be used for illegal and unlawful activity after warnings from law enforcement officials and after an agreement with 40 state attorneys general."

The attorney general then added that he wants the questionable ads under Craigslist's "Erotic Services" category to be removed from the South Carolina part of the site by close of business on Friday, May 15.

In a blog posted on Tuesday, Buckmaster said his company has been working with law enforcement officials and has cut site "misuse" by 90% since Craigslist entered into an agreement with 43 attorneys general late last year to do just that.

"We look forward to speaking directly with Attorney General McMaster about his concerns, and finding ways to address them without compromising the utility of Craigslist for South Carolinians, or anyone's Constitutional rights," wrote Buckmaster. "However, we see no legal basis whatsoever for filing a lawsuit against Craigslist or its principals and hope that the attorney general will realize this upon further reflection."

The Erotic Services category on Craigslist has been under scrutiny since Boston University medical student Philip Markoff was arrested and arraigned last month for allegedly murdering one woman and kidnapping and assaulting another after meeting both of them through erotic services ads on Craigslist.

On Monday, Markoff was also charged with assault and weapons charges for allegedly using a gun to threaten a woman in a Rhode Island hotel on an April 16. The woman told police that she had met her assailant through an advertisement on Craigslist.

Then yesterday, Craigslist executives met with the attorneys general from Missouri, Connecticut and Illinois to discuss the questionable ads.

After the meeting, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called on the site to "banish virtual streetwalkers and pornography."

"In our meeting today with Craigslist, we urged the site to swiftly shut down the online brothel operating from its pages," Blumenthal said in a statement. "Craigslist's measures to combat prostitution and pornography are so far inadequate, failing to curb activities that contribute to human trafficking, child exploitation and other crimes."

He also said that if Craigslist fails to do anything, he will consider taking legal action against the site.

In a blog post, Buckmaster called Tuesday's meeting "cordial and productive." He also pointed to the progress that Craigslist has been making to curb inappropriate advertising and said that the company continues to develop improvements for the site.

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.



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