Recently, as the result of a troubled person seeking out and murdering a woman he found through the “Erotic Services” section on the popular website Craigslist.org, several Attorney Generals across the country have been looking closely at Craigslist, and in particular what it allows to be posted in its “Erotic Services” section, to see if any laws are being broken.
Let’s check out what all this fuss is about. Using the West Coast as an example I perused the Craigslist Erotic Services section in three major metropolitan areas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County. Here’s what I found:
In the Los Angeles section, I found this delightful tidbit (partially redacted of course):
Date: 2009-05-12, 9:20PM PDT
DAMN DADDI THAT WAS TOO FAST LETS DO IT AGAIN SPECIALS* – 21
I make sure my gentlemen are comfortable and relaxed I provide a very 3rotic time…..
I’m everything you could want and need! Don’t take my word for it. see for yourself…With that said, I promise No Drama No Disappointments, only 100% Satisfaction. I’ll be waiting tohear from you!!!
…80QUCIK KNOCKOUT:::::120HALF THE EXPERICENCE::::150IF YOUR REALLY UP FOR THAT SECOND ROUND ADD 50 FOR THAT BACKD00R
Hey! I need a new backdoor for my house and $50 seems like a bargain to me. But alas, I’m afraid it’s not that kind of backdoor.
In the San Francisco section, I found this wheeling, dealing solicitor:
Date: 2009-05-12, 9:33PM PDT
Petite Delicious College Cutie ** . .. hot, young & READY 4 ACTION – 21
Looking for the perfect girl???….,
Need a little relaxation tonight Baby??
As your eye’s first gaze at this adorable college cutie you will be taken in by her magnetic presence.
With her amazing 34B-23-34 130 lbs. hour glass figure, long toned legs, soft to the touch skin and sexy sensual demeanor you will be more then satisfied with your choice.
… although down to earth and fun loving is not for the faint of heart. One encounter with her and you are sure to be whisked away by her incredibly luminous personality. Flirty and gorgeous in every way, she aims to please and will captivate you with her spontaneous nature. Come indulge in the company of pure passion.
For distinguished upscale gentlemen who desire an elite companion with beauty class and intelligence. Let this be a time remembered. Wonderful experience’s do happen! FETISH WELCOME !!!
Wanted To give you guy’s a taste of heaven so heres a pic… all my pics are untouched meaning NO Photoshop.. Have fun !
Always giving the ultimate in service and class!
OutCalls: WHEREVER YOU PLEASE
ALSO I SEEM TO HAVE BROKEN MY COMPUTER SO- IF YOU HAVE A GOOD QUALITY LAPTOP OR EVEN A LITTLE MINI DELL OR SOMETHING LET ME KNOW I WOULD BE HAPPY TO TRADE FOR FREE SESSION ….I AM SPECIFICALLY LOOKING FOR AN APPLE THOUGH… THANKS BOYS
How cute is that? She wants to barter — sex for a computer!
In the Orange County section, this ad topped the list:
Date: 2009-05-12, 9:51PM PDT
K—N—O—C—K—°*°—O—U—T—°*°—C—U—T—I—E – w4m – 19
If your searching for a young hot sexy naught.y Italian bombshell to fulfill your deepest fantasies,look no further….
I’m a sexy strawberry blond standing 5’7, 140lbs, with irresistible hazel brown bedroom eyes. I’m a lady in public, but a mistress behind closed doors, you couldn’t ask for anything more!
I’ll give that “ultimate experience” you’ll ever forget….
So just pick up the phone and call, you wont be disappointed I promise!
Incall!!! 100Roses/15mins !!! 140Roses/30mins !!! 180 Roses/60mins !!!
Outcall!!! 160 Roses/30mins !!! 200 Roses/60mins !!!
Ok, a show of hands please. Who honestly thinks that if you showed up with a bouquet of 100 roses in hand that this self-described “cutie” will have sex with you?
There are hundreds of such advertisements, approximately 85% of which are undeniably solicitations for prostitution (unless you’re a florist or a computer repair specialist of course). An additional 10% are likely criminal rings looking for unsuspecting Johns to rip off and rob, and the remaining 5% are undoubtedly police sting operations. The ads are often disguised with tag lines like: “200 kisses for an hour” or “100 roses for a half hour,” and many speak of not being “a solicitation for prostitution” even though that is what is specifically being eluded to. Back tracing many of the telephone numbers used in the ads reveal almost all of them being cell phones with many of them being redirected to eager escort services waiting to provide you with a selection of girls to choose from.
I think it’s pretty evident that everyone knows what the laws are in their state with regards to prostitution. I think Nevada is the only state that actually still allows it in certain low populated counties (Las Vegas not being among them). Everywhere else in America — it’s a big no-no. So knowing that and seeing these open and blatant advertisements of sex in exchange for money, should Craigslist be held criminally accountable for allowing them? Craigslist CEO, Jim Buckmaster, emphatically says no. In fact, he went so far today to claim on his blog that the advertisements are “protected under federal law” and that to claim otherwise is “unwarranted and unconstitutional.” Let’s see if his argument holds water.
In his blog post demanding an apology from the South Carolina Attorney General, Buckmaster began:
Dear South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster,
Two days ago you accused craigslist, and me personally, of engaging in criminal acts, reiterating your previous threat to file unwarranted and unconstitutional charges against us that are clearly barred by federal law. As you put it, “We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution.” (emphasis added)
Buckmaster backs up his assertion of unconstitutionality by conveniently providing a link to a Center for Democracy and Technology blog post entitled, Grandstanding Against Craigslist and Threatening Free Speech to Boot authored by a gentleman by the name of John Morris, who writes:
These threatened charges both violate the U.S. Constitution and directly conflict with federal law. Federal law is crystal clear that Craigslist has no liability under state law for content posted by users. If a prostitute advertises illegal services on Craigslist and then commits a crime, the prostitute may be guilty, but Craigslist is not. In 1996, Congress passed a law – known as “Section 230” – for the very reason that it wanted to leave sites like Craigslist free to adopt remedial measures against unsavory content – as Craigslist has done – without fear of becoming liable as the publisher of the content posted by users.
Wow! He sounds convincing and even lawyerly. Let’s check out this magical Section 230.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, as codified in 47 United States Code Sec. 230, was enacted to provide an immunity from liability to providers and users of an interactive computer service who publish information provided by others.
Section 230(c): Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material.
(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker. No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
(2) Civil liability. No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of:
(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).
Oops! It seems our lawyerly friend is a bit misguided. Section 230(c)(2) speaks of a “civil liability” when prostitution certainly falls under the purview of a “criminal” matter. But the Code continues:
Section 230(e): Effect on other laws.
(1) No effect on criminal law. Nothing in this section shall be construed to impair the enforcement of section 223 or 231 of this title, chapter 71 (relating to obscenity) or 110 (relating to sexual exploitation of children) of title 18, or any other Federal criminal statute.
(2) No effect on intellectual property law. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or expand any law pertaining to intellectual property.
(3) State law. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent any State from enforcing any State law that is consistent with this section. No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.
(4) No effect on communications privacy law. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the application of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 or any of the amendments made by such Act, or any similar State law.
Whooops! Did that say “no effect on criminal law?” Now it’s certain that both Buckmaster and his lawyerly friend are just flat wrong since the Code itself, the one to which both wayward bloggers submit as their cornerstone of democracy and free speech, doesn’t apply to criminal acts in the arms of which prostitution squarely rests. Further, the Code explicitly gives States the right to enforce their own laws against such offenders while again reiterating that no civil liability shall attach to the provider. (See subsection 3).
So, buck up Mr. Buckmaster, rid your website of these types of clearly unlawful advertisements of sex for money and stop trying to make Attorney General McMaster out to be the bad guy here — because he’s not — you are!
It’s no secret that the erotic services section of Craigslist accounts for a vast majority of its overall website traffic. That’s a pretty large chunk of traffic to just throw away and take offline. However, Craigslist doesn’t sell individual webpage advertising like many other popular websites so the elimination of this section, with its clearly illegal activity, would seem on its face to cause little financial harm to Craigslist. However, the erotic services section is one of the few sections on Craigslist where a fee of $5.00 per ad is charged.
The reluctance to drop this controversial section is evidence enough that Craigslist desperately needs this income. Is it any wonder then why Buckmaster is fighting so hard to save Craigslist’s “red light district?”
Why fight for something so silly? If Craigslist is so adamant that they are in the right, then why not just open a new section called, “Drugs?” Where heroine and crack dealers can sell their wares to the public directly rather than from the shadows and darkened corners of our streets (same as the prostitutes). Craigslist could increase their website traffic 1,000 fold overnight by doing so in addition to collecting a fee for each ad, and of course, under their definition of the law, be immune from criminal prosecution. I ask you now, what’s the difference?
Let’s just be open and honest with each other here and ask the tough question. Has Craigslist resolved itself to being the “Whore house of cyberspace?”