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Craigslist Sues and AG Backs Off

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster announced on his blog this morning that he has filed a lawsuit against South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster over his repeated threats to file criminal charges against the company. "Mr. McMaster’s repeated threats of criminal prosecution should we refuse to shut down craigslist for South Carolina have left us little choice but to seek declaratory relief before the court," Buckmaster said.

Earlier this month, McMaster sent Buckmaster a letter threatening criminal prosecution if "the portions of the Internet site dedicated to South Carolina and its municipal regions and which contain categories for and functions allowing for the solicitation of prostitution and the dissemination and posting of graphic pornographic material are not permanently removed" by the close of business on May 15. On Friday, McMaster's Web site posted a notice saying that Craigslist had not complied. "We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution."

Buckmaster's post says that the AG's threats ignore the fact that Craigslist "is operating in full compliance with all applicable laws," has eliminated its "erotic services" category and has adopted stricter screening measures. He goes on to say:

Interestingly, if you read Mr McMaster’s ultimatum carefully, you’ll note that the only way to definitively comply with it is to take down the craigslist sites for South Carolina in their entirety. The open architecture of craigslist, quintessential to the value it provides for users, simply does not allow for the absolute prevention of solicitation or pornography, with respect to any of its categories and functions.

The blog post does not include the court documents but says that is based on the grounds that the AG's threats "represent an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech and are clearly barred by federal law," to wit, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

McMaster responds to the lawsuit on his site as "good news. It shows that craigslist is taking the matter seriously for the first time." His response suggests he is backing off any criminal prosecution. "Unfortunately, we had to inform them of possible state criminal violations concerning their past practices to produce a serious response," he says. "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."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on May 20, 2009 at 12:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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