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New York AG Appears Miffed at Craigslist

The attorneys general of Illinois, Connecticut and Missouri were claiming victory yesterday in the wake of the announcement by Craigslist that it would eliminate its Erotic Services ads and replace that section of its site with a yet-to-be-named adult category in which all listings will be reviewed by Craigslist staff. Illinois AG Lisa Madigan announced the development yesterday after she and the AGs for Connecticut and Missouri met with Craigslist officials last week seeking an end to the ads that they consider to be for illegal sexual activities.

But it appears that at least one AG was miffed at the announcement. New York AG Andrew M. Cuomo posted a terse statement that can only be described as odd:

Several weeks ago, we informed Craigslist of an impending criminal case that implicated its website. Rather than work with this office to prevent further abuses, in the middle of the night, Craigslist took unilateral action which we suspect will prove to be half-baked.

Thomas O'Toole, author of BNA's E-Commerce and Tech Law Blog, pointed attention to Cuomo's statement through a Twitter post in which he succinctly summarized it as saying, "Curses, you stole my photo op!"

In the long run, the news is likely to prove little more than a photo op. As David Ardia observes at the Citizen Media Law Project, it is unlikely that Craigslist's removal of the erotic services section will eliminate ads for erotic services. "After all, it is not illegal for consenting adults to post ads seeking sexual trysts," Ardia writes. "If sex is provided in exchange for money it's a different story, of course, but how will Craigslist be in a position to know that someone has crossed that line?" Mike Masnick at Techdirt puts it this way:

It's difficult to see how this ends well. Prostitution will continue. It will just move to other websites, where it will be that much more difficult for law enforcement to track it and respond to it. This move will also -- unfortunately -- empower AGs to once again abuse their public platform to pressure companies into doing things with absolutely no legal basis whatsoever.

As Masnick suggests, this latest news shows that fighting illegality can come dangerously close to policing morality. I agree with Ardia when he asks, "Do we really want Craigslist, or the state attorneys general for that matter, enforcing sexual morality?" In that sense, at least, Cuomo is right to call the action half-baked.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 14, 2009 at 02:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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