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South Carolina sets ultimatum for Craigslist

Columbia (SC) – South Carolina attorney general Henry McMaster asks Craigslist to remove certain “portions” of its classifieds categories that allow for “the solicitation of prostitution and the dissemination and posting of graphic pornographic material,” which is considered a crime in the state. Craigslist has ten days to comply with the request, otherwise the site will be targeted by a criminal investigation and prosecution, McMaster said.

South Carolina is the latest state to go after Craigslist and its “Casual Encounters” section, which is believed by authorities to have become a major channel to promote prostitution. The site has been in hot water over the issue for some time, especially with the attorneys general from Missouri, Connecticut and Illinois, with whom representatives of Craigslist met yesterday to discuss the issue.

In a letter addressed to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, McMaster demands the removal of the section within ten days, until “5:00 pm EST, the close of business Friday May 15, 2009.” He claims that following a November 2008 promise the site “to install safeguards to combat unlawful activity and improve public safety” has not happened yet and that there are “indications” that Craigslist “has not installed sufficient safeguards since November to prohibit the Internet site from being used as a vehicle to advertise or solicit prostitution.” He added that “the unrestricted manner in which graphic pornographic pictures are posted and displayed by users on the craigslist site and their accessibility to minors” is also a concern.

McMaster accuses the Craigslist management to “knowingly” allow the service “to be used for illegal and unlawful activity after warnings from law enforcement officials and after an agreement with forty state attorneys general.” It does not take much to see where McMaster is coming from, as the “Casual Encounters” section typically hosts plenty of dubious posts at any given time. However, Craigslist has stepped up its efforts to respond to those posts and tends to remove illegal free posts within a few hours – which, however, is not enough to comply with South Carolina law.   

Craigslist responded with a blog post, stating that the company looks “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.“ However, the company believes that the request from South Carolina has “no legal basis whatsoever for filing a lawsuit against Craigslist or its principals” and the company hopes “that the attorney general will realize this upon further reflection.”

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.  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.

Craigslist said it has been “working closely with law enforcement on these very issues.” As a result, misuse has decreased by approximately 90% since the site and 43 attorneys general entered into a joint statement about six 6 months ago. “Given the progress that has been made dealing with these tremendously complex issues in a very short time, and the ongoing collaboration between Craigslist and law enforcement to make further improvements, we urge attorney general McMaster to look closely at the facts before proceeding with his threat,” the company said.