Legal Experts Absolve Craigslist on Sex Ads
By Clint Swett, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.
Mar. 23–In the wake of an FBI raid on the home of a Sacramento photographer for allegedly posting photos of underage prostitutes on craigslist, experts said the huge online classified site has no responsibility for policing such behavior.
In fact, federal law specifically exempts online services from such liability, said Lauren Gelman, associate director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University Law School.
Gelman said the federal Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, exempts online services such as craigslist, America Online and Yahoo from liability for the content that their users post.
“If craigslist was accused of committing a criminal act, they would be liable,” Gelman said. “But for hosting pictures, there wouldn’t be any liability.”
On Tuesday, a federal judge unsealed documents detailing the FBI raid last month on the south Sacramento home and studio of Paul Yoshi Moore. The documents allege that he had taken racy photos of three underage girls, one 14 and two 17, and posted them on an adult section of craigslist’s Sacramento site.
No charges have been filed against Moore, who told The Bee he was aware of an investigation and fears he will be “crucified.”
Sites such as San Francisco-based craigslist, which publishes 14 million classified ads each month, would be nearly impossible to police for such content, Gelman said.
“Companies like craigslist would never go into business if they were going to be liable for what their users post,” she said. “There’s no way a company could ever monitor them all.”
In an e-mail message to The Bee, craigslist chief executive Jim Buckmaster said that his site’s users frequently report abuses when they are spotted.
He wrote there was nothing in the postings in question to indicate the girls were underage, and noted that daily newspapers, alternative weeklies and even phone directories accept money for advertising adult content, but craigslist doesn’t charge for most of its listings.
“Law enforcement officers routinely patrol the site, which we appreciate,” he wrote. “We cooperate with law enforcement in any and every way they ask of us.”
Authorities have looked into similar postings on craigslist sites in several other cities, including Chicago, Baltimore and Oakland.
In fact, the Internet has become a prime vehicle for advertising escort services, massage parlors and other services with ties to prostitution, said Ronald Weitzer, a professor of sociology at George Washington University.
“There are a ton of Web sites and message boards where people are advertising prostitution and (customers) are discussing their experiences,” said Weitzer, who has written extensively on the sex trade.
“We don’t have good data to measure it, but I’m sure (the Internet) has increased prostitution,” he said. But he questioned whether the Web has contributed to more underage prostitutes.
“It’s always been a problem. There have always been underage sex workers, but I don’t think it’s growing,” Weitzer said.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.
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