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Craigslist Facing Ultimatum Over Sex Ads

Craigslist ads
After meeting with representatives of Craigslist in New York on Tuesday, the leader of a coalition of state attorneys general is threatening legal action if the company does not stamp out ads for prostitution and other illegal activity on its site.

"In our meeting today with Craigslist, we urged the site to swiftly shut down the online brothel operating from its pages," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement. "Craigslist's measures to combat prostitution and pornography are so far inadequate, failing to curb activities that contribute to human trafficking, child exploitation and other crimes."

In November, Craigslist reached an agreement with Blumenthal and 42 other attorneys general to implement policies and technologies to clean up the site, but in the time since many law enforcement authorities have become concerned that Craigslist isn't taking the threat seriously enough.

The issue vaulted onto the national stage after a Boston medical student was accused of murdering a woman he met through the site who was advertising massage services. Philip Markoff, dubbed the "Craigslist killer," has also been charged with the armed robbery of a stripper in Rhode Island.

The attorneys general called on Craigslist to remove the erotic services section from its site and deploy image-blocking technology to automatically block pornographic photos.

"If the site fails to act, we must consider additional measures, including possible legal action, to protect children and the public," Blumenthal said.

Joining Blumenthal at yesterday's meeting were Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and Lisa Madigan, the attorney general of Illinois.

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, who described the meeting as "cordial and productive," said that the site continues to develop technologies to purge illegal activity from its site. At the same time, Buckmaster said Craigslist is trying to strike a balance between partnering with law enforcement and preserving the free and open nature of the site.

"We share the AG's interest in minimizing misuse of Craigslist," Buckmaster wrote in a blog post. "We're optimistic this goal can be reached while preserving all beneficial aspects of a site relied upon by tens of millions of Americans, and without compromising the quintessentially American values of free speech embodied in our constitution."

Separately, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster on Tuesday threatened Craigslist with legal action if it does not remove ads related to prostitution or containing pornography from the South Carolina sections of the site.

"It is advertisement for prostitution," McMaster said at a news conference. "It is ugly, it is harmful, and there is no good reason on earth why that is being allowed to be sent into South Carolina."

In a letter (PDF) to the Buckmaster, McMaster threatened criminal prosecution against members of Craigslist's management if they did not remove prostitution ads and pornography from South Carolina portions of the site by May 15.

Buckmaster responded in a blog post saying that there is "no legal basis whatsoever" for a lawsuit against Craigslist. He appealed to the attorney general to reconsider his threat, touting the swift progress the company has made since the November agreement. Craigslist estimates that illegal activity has decreased 90 percent since implementing those policy changes, which included filtering technology, enabling users to flag indecent posts, and charging a fee for ads in the erotic services section.

In March, an Illinois sheriff sued Craigslist over the continued criminal activity he said the site facilitated.