Pressured by law enforcement, advocacy groups, and Congress the popular site Craigslist said it would permanently remove adult services from its online classified ads here in the United States. The move has been lauded by foes of Craigslist's adult services ads, but it has also sparked concern among free-speech advocates who see the shuttering of its adult services as a threat to free speech on the Internet.
Craigslist's lawyers told a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on child sex trafficking Wednesday that it has no plans to reopen its U.S. adult services section, which it shut down September 3 after heavy criticism from human rights advocacy groups and Congress who charged that Craigslist was commonly used in the global sex trade of women.
William Clinton Powell, the director of customer service and law enforcement relations for Craigslist, said that his company had "no intention to bring the category back" and "money is not a consideration." Craigslist skirted the issue of whether it would yield to calls by advocacy groups to stop running erotic services ads that appear on international versions of the Craigslist site outside the U.S.
Craigslist Backed into Corner
At the end of August a group of 17 Attorneys General requested, in an open letter, that Craigslist disable the adult services section of its site immediately. The letter explained that the "increasingly sharp public criticism" of the adult services section "reflects a growing recognition that ads for prostitution -- including ads trafficking children - are rampant on it."
The letter also gave examples of how adult services ads on Craigslist were allegedly tied to sex crimes. It cited one story of two girls who were allegedly trafficked over the Internet through listings on the Craigslist site. Those two girls wrote an open letter in July 2010 requesting that Craigslist take the section down.
Craigslist responded with a request evidence of the alleged trafficking authorities.
Free Speech Argument
Earlier this month Craigslist complied with lawmaker requests and put a black bar with the word "censored" over the section of the site labeled adult services. The move raised the question of free speech and the Internet--and whether or not Congress has the right to censor Internet.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Craigslist decision to "censor" its Adult Services section is an unfortunate one. The EFF points out that the Attorneys General basically bullied Craigslist into making such a decision, as "over the past two years, Craigslist repeatedly offered to go far above and beyond their legal obligations to work with law enforcement officials," and "the AGs have inevitably rewarded completely voluntary, non-mandatory offers of cooperation from Craigslist with further demands and insults."
Of course, shutting down Craigslist's Adult Services section for good is unlikely to fix all the sex trafficking issues like that. As Elizabeth McDougall, a partner at Perkins Coie LLP (the law firm representing Craigslist), says, the ads will just "migrate to less socially responsible sites" that won't cooperate with law enforcement.