Attorneys general in 18 states demanded that Craigslist remove its adult services section last week, the latest clash in a long-running conflict over online sexual ads that is likely to lead to a court battle, congressional debate or both, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Said Jason Schultz, assistant professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law, “There has been political pressure building to try to pass new laws or to sue Craigslist criminally.” How any such efforts turn out, however, is more difficult to say. At the heart of the issue is an open legal question: What responsibilities do websites have to recognize and stop criminal activity facilitated through their properties?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Communications Decency Act generally protect online publishers from the illegal actions of third parties on their sites, particularly in regard to matters like copyright and defamation. But there are narrow exceptions in the latter law when it comes to criminal statues. The attorneys general would probably use this window to pursue a criminal case, charging Craigslist with aiding and abetting illegal activity. Any legislative push, meanwhile, would be likely to seek to more specifically define those exceptions. The San Francisco-based company is the focal point of the debate, as the leading online classified ad site–and what one critic has branded the “Wal-Mart of online sex trafficking.”