Attorneys General Ask Craigslist to Stop Smutty Ads

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While a judge in South Carolina last week moved to quiet the heated debate between Craigslist and the state's attorney general, the top legal officers from seven other states today called on the Web site to outline its plan to keep prostitution advertising off its pages.

U.S. District Court Judge C. Weston Houck in Charleston, S.C. issued a consent order last Friday, which effectively prevents Attorney General Henry McMaster from filing charges against Craigslist until a court weighs in on the matter. The order was voluntarily signed by both a Craigslist executive and McMaster, who earlier this month had threatened to file criminal charges against the San Francisco company for allegedly running prostitution ads on its site.

Craigslist had filed a lawsuit suit last week seeking a restraining order against the attorney general.

However, while the judge temporarily quieted the heated debate between Craigslist and South Carolina, a group of seven attorneys general kept the issue alive by issuing a written request that Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster outline his plans to keep his site free of racy and/or illegal advertisements.

"We want to know in no uncertain terms exactly how Craigslist is blocking illicit activity -- specifics that show its good faith and provide guidance to other sites," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, in a statement. "The soliciting for sex may be more subtle or disguised, so identifying code words and signals is key. We are seeking detailed policies and procedures to rid pornography and flagrant prostitution ads from Craigslist's new adult services section."

Blumenthal was joined in his request by the attorneys general from Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

In an earlier heated back and forth between various attorneys general and Craigslist over the site's controversial advertisements, Buckmaster vowed a few weeks ago to kill the Erotic Services category and replace it with an Adult Services category that would only carry ads after they were manually reviewed.

Immediately after Buckmaster announced that he was eliminating the site's Erotic Services category, Connecticut's Blumenthal, who had been vocal in his criticism of Craigslist, applauded the company's decision to remove the Erotic Services category. Now, Blumenthal wants more information from Craigslist.

"Craigslist has shown some progress against blatant prostitution and pornography, but our continued prodding and pressure is appropriate," wrote Blumenthal. "I am determined to fight prostitution and pornography on Craigslist and other sites, battling online brothels and sex supermarkets or related illicit activity. Prostitution and commercial sex -- far from being victimless -- are linked to human trafficking and child exploitation, as well as other serious crimes."

The issue got stickier last week when seven people were indicted on charges that they were operating a prostitution ring that advertised exclusively on Craigslist.

And then late last week, David L. Gage, 51, of Kansas, was sentenced to 29 years in state prison for raping women who had posted ads under the Erotic Services category of Craigslist. Gage was found guilty of three counts of rape, two counts of aggravated criminal sodomy, one count of aggravated robbery and one count of aggravated assault.

The Erotic Services category on Craigslist has been under scrutiny since Boston University medical student Philip Markoff was arrested and arraigned in April for allegedly murdering one woman and kidnapping and assaulting two others after meeting them through Erotic Services ads on Craigslist.

This story, "Attorneys General Ask Craigslist to Stop Smutty Ads" was originally published by Computerworld.

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