Craigslist sues So. Carolina attorney general

It says charges by AG Henry McMaster regarding erotic ads on Craigslist are unwarranted and illegal. McMaster says good--they're finally taking the matter seriously.

This post has been updated. See below for details.

Craigslist said Wednesday it is suing South Carolina's attorney general over the threat of criminal charges against the Web site and its executives.

In the lawsuit filed in federal court, Craigslist says it is "seeking declaratory relief and a restraining order" connected to accusations by Henry McMaster, the state's attorney general, that the classified ad site has not adequately removed "advertisements for prostitution and graphic pornographic material."

In a blog post Wednesday morning, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said that the charges are egregious:

In addition to being unwarranted by the facts, legal experts agree that the charges threatened represent an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech, and are clearly barred by federal law (sec 230 CDA).

McMaster responded later Wednesday morning with a statement, given here in full:

Craigslist timeline

A breakdown of some key events related to Craiglist's controversial erotic services section.

November 6, 2008
Craigslist requires those posting erotic ads to submit phone, credit card numbers

March 5, 2009
Sheriff near Chicago sues Craigslist for facilitating prostitution

April 20, 2009
Boston man arrested, called "Craigslist killer"

May 6, 2009
Several attorneys general call for closure of erotic services section

May 13, 2009
Craigslist says it will close erotic section.

May 15, 2009
So. Carolina AG says he will prosecute Craigslist

May 20, 2009
Craigslist files lawsuit against So. Carolina AG

The defensive legal action craigslist has taken against the solicitors and my office is good news. It shows that craigslist is taking the matter seriously for the first time.

More importantly, overnight they have removed the erotic services section from their website, as we asked them to do. And they are now taking responsibility for the content of their future advertisements. If they keep their word, this is a victory for law enforcement and for the people of South Carolina.

Unfortunately, we had to inform them of possible state criminal violations concerning their past practices to produce a serious response. We trust they will now adhere to the higher standards they have promised. This office and the law enforcement agencies of South Carolina will continue to monitor the site to make certain that our laws are respected.

In recent weeks, Craigslist has worked to remove its erotic ads section in response to demands from a number of state attorneys general and to replace it with a new, more closely monitored adult section. A check of the site earlier this week by CNET News, however, showed that Craigslist had not been able to completely prevent people from posting solicitations for sex . In addition, similar content can be found on other classified-ad sites serving South Carolina locales.

Buckmaster said in his blog post Wednesday that the only way to fully comply with the attorney general's "ultimatum" to remove the portions of Craigslist containing erotically charged material "is to take down the craigslist sites for South Carolina in their entirety." On Monday, Buckmaster had demanded an apology from McMaster.

The attorney general, Buckmaster said, "has persisted with his threats despite the fact that craigslist:"

• is operating in full compliance with all applicable laws
• has earned a reputation for being unusually responsive to requests from law enforcement
• has eliminated its "erotic services" category for all US cities
• has adopted screening measures far stricter than those Mr McMaster himself personally endorsed with his signature just 6 months ago
• has far fewer and far tamer adult service ads than many mainstream print and online venues operating in South Carolina
• has made its representatives available to hear Mr McMaster's concerns in person
• has politely asked Mr McMaster to retract and apologize for his unreasonable threats

Update at 8:01 a.m. PDT: Background information and more details from the Craigslist blog were added.

Update at 8:58 a.m. PDT: Response from the South Carolina attorney general's office was added.

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About the author

Jonathan Skillings is managing editor of CNET News, based in the Boston bureau. He's been with CNET since 2000, after a decade in tech journalism at the IDG News Service, PC Week, and an AS/400 magazine. He's also been a soldier and a schoolteacher, and will always be a die-hard fan of jazz, the brassier the better.

 

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