Archive for the ‘Law Enforcement’ Category

Running Hot and Cold

May 22, 2009

AP reporter Meg Kinnard has revealed that Defendant McMaster has not prosecuted so much as a single prostitution case in his 7 years as SC Attorney General, and has not objected to local newspapers running adult service ads, choosing instead to attack SF-based craigslist:

Ann Bartow, a professor of Internet law at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said McMaster’s decision to take on Craigslist and not local newspapers that advertise escort services suggests political motivations.

“Why Craigslist? Newspapers run the same ads, but they have people locally who would stand up for them, and he didn’t want to alienate the newspapers that would be reporting on his campaign,” Bartow said.

 

Turning a Blind Eye

May 22, 2009

Noteable as this news cycle winds down ( “Craigslist Pwns McMaster,” “Pandering Has Its Price,” “Craigslist 1, McMaster 0,” “McMaster’s Final Humiliation” ) has been the absolute disinterest shown by politicians and journalists in hardcore sex-for-money ads featured in journalistic media, no matter how numerous or graphic they may be.

Here are a few out of tens of thousands of “escort ads” featured onbackpage.com adult classifieds owned by Village Voice Media, publisher of achain of weekly newspapers. (WARNING – EXPLICIT SEXUAL CONTENT):

UPDATE – Now deleted ads included photos of sex acts, and price quotes for: “GFE, BBBJ, CIM, greek, swallow, DATY, 69, facials, golden showers, anal”

UPDATE – Screenshot of ad cited above (CAUTION, EXPLICIT SEXUALITY)

These examples were “featured” ads for which Village Voice charged extra, such that this content presumably fell well within their guidelines.

It’s worth noting that these ads’ TITLES ALONE contain more explicit content than you will find in all craigslist adult service ads combined.

Could the blessing of politicos on voluminous pornographic sex-for-money ads in journalistic media have anything to do with the need for positive coverage and campaign endorsements from said media?

As for journalists, is it possible that criticizing craigslist is more career-friendly than taking their own employers (or publishing peers) to task?

An Apology Is In Order

May 18, 2009

Dear South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster,

Two days ago you accused craigslist, and me personally, of engaging in criminal acts, reiterating your previous threat to file unwarranted and unconstitutional charges against us that are clearly barred by federal law. As you put it, “We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution.”

These very serious allegations followed the dramatic changes we implemented last week, widely applauded by other Attorneys General, that go far beyond the policies and procedures you yourself personally endorsedjust 6 months ago, as indicated by your signature on the Joint Statement.

So effective in fact, that our “adult services” and soon-to-be-retired “erotic services” sections combined, for all cities in South Carolina, currently feature a total of 40 ads, all of which comply with our terms of use. That’s 40 ads out of a total of 334,180 currently listed on our SC sites. The rest comprise athriving marketplace for South Carolinians, offering jobs, housing, for sale items, local services, and just about everything else.

Many prominent companies, including AT&T, Microsoft, and Village Voice Media, not to mention major newspapers and other upstanding South Carolina businesses feature more “adult services” ads than does craigslist, some of a very graphic nature. For a small sampling, look (careful NSFW)here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

Have you fully considered the implications of your accusations against craigslist? What’s a crime for craigslist is clearly a crime for any company. Are you really prepared to condemn the executives of each of the mainstream companies linked above, and all the others that feature such ads, as criminals? craigslist may not matter in your world view, despite our popularity among your constituents, but mightn’t you want an endorsement from any of the SC newspapers for your gubenatorial campaign, whose publishers you’ve just labeled as criminals? Do you really intend to launch a criminal investigation against the phone company? What about potential new jobs connected to big data center buildouts in SC by Internet companies? Are you *sure* you want to prosecute all of their CEOs as criminals???

If you are threatening our founder Craig Newmark, a board member with no operational role at craigslist other than as a customer service representative, then you are expanding your list of “criminal suspects” to include thousands of employees at the above-named companies, or the companies’ boards of directors, or both.

Mr McMaster, I strongly recommend you reconsider and retract your remarks, and positively affirm that you have no intention of launching criminal investigations aimed at any of these upstanding companies, because in truth none of them are deserving of such treatment. Certainly when it comes to craigslist, by any objective standard your threats and accusations are unreasonable and unfair:

  • threats of criminal prosecution are utterly unwarranted by the facts
  • the charges threatened are unconstitutional and barred by federal law
  • our adult ad screening regimen is stricter than the one you endorsed
  • our adult services ads are fewer and tamer than other SC venues

We’re willing to accept our share of criticism, but wrongfully accusing  craigslist of criminal misconduct is simply beyond the pale. We would very much appreciate an apology at your very earliest convenience. As I’m sure would all of the other fine companies whose executives you’ve called out as criminals.

Sincerely Yours,

Jim Buckmaster
CEO, craigslist

May 16, 2009

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster today announced that ourrecent improvements, which go far beyond measures he himself personally endorsed with his own signature six months ago, not only aren’t good enough, but actually require a criminal investigation:

“As of 5:00 p.m. this afternoon, the craigslist South Carolina site continues to display advertisements for prostitution and graphic pornographic material. This content was not removed as we requested. We have no alternative but to move forward with criminal investigation and potential prosecution.”

He evidently feels justified in singling out craigslist for investigation, and publicly condemning me personally as being worthy of criminal prosecution.

Seriously? The craigslist adult services section for Greenville, SC has a total of 1 ad for the last 3 days, featuring a photograph of a fully clothed person. The “erotic services” section for Greenville, which we recently closed, has 8 ads total which will expire in two days, and even for these ads the images and text are quite tame.

Meanwhile, the “adult entertainment” section of greenville.backpage.com(careful with link, NSFW), owned by Village Voice Media, has over 60 ads for the last 3 days, and about 250 in total. In sharp contrast with craigslist, many of these ads are quite explicit, quoting prices for specific sex acts, featuring close-ups of bare genitalia, etc.

Of course, no one in mainstream legal circles thinks either company should be subject to civil suit, let alone a criminal investigation. But if for whatever reason you were so motivated, would you target a venue with 9 PG-13 rated ads, or one with 250 XXX rated ones?

And FWIW, telephone yellow pages and other local print media have both companies beat hands down as adult service ad venues for South Carolina.

Any interest in targeting them for criminal prosecution? Didn’t think so.

Update – 1st comment on this entry lists 19 adult ads for 1 day from the Charleston Post and Courier.

Update 2 – 5 pages of escort listings on live.com (owned and operated by Microsoft), click on the “images” tab at the top of the listing page if you want to see photographs (careful NSFW), and note the sponsored “hotel” ads being sold against these listings

Update 3 – 26 escort ads for Myrtle Beach on yellowpages.com (owned and operated by AT&T). Anyone care to count the escort ads in the print yellow pages for major cities in South Carolina?

Striking a New Balance

May 13, 2009

As of today for all US craigslist sites, postings to the “erotic services” category will no longer be accepted, and in 7 days the category will be removed.

Also effective today for all US sites, a new category entitled “adult services” will be opened for postings by legal adult service providers. Each posting to this new category will be manually reviewed before appearing on the site, to ensure compliance with craigslist posting guidelines and terms of use. New postings will cost $10, but once approved, will be eligible for reposting at $5.

Unsurprisingly, but completely contrary to some of the sensationalistic journalism we’ve seen these past few weeks, the record is clear that use of craigslist classifieds is associated with far lower rates of violent crime than print classifieds, let alone rates of violent crime pertaining to American society as a whole.

The relative safety of craigslist compared to print classifieds is likely due to some combination of:

  • Measures such as blocking, screening, and telephone verification
  • Community moderation via our flagging system
  • Electronic trail ensures violent criminals are quickly caught
  • Personal safety tips prominently posted
  • Unusually high level of cooperation with law enforcement

Community moderation as exemplified by our flagging system is arguably the most successful system ever conceived for eliminating inappropriate activity from a massive internet community. Working in tandem with various other protective technologies, it is an inescapable force to be reckoned with for anyone set on abusing free internet communications across a broad array of posting types.

However, with respect to this new paid category for advertising by legal businesses, we will experiment with some of the methods traditionally employed in paid print classifieds.

We’d like to thank everyone who has provided helpful input over the past few weeks, all of which was closely considered:

  • Our users, whose suggestions shape every aspect of craigslist
  • Attorneys General, who provided valuable constructive criticism
  • Law Enforcement officers nationwide, hugely supportive as always
  • Legally compliant businesses wishing to advertise their services
  • EFF and other experts defending free speech and Internet law

We are optimistic that the new balance struck today will be an acceptable compromise from the perspective of these constituencies, and for the diverse US communities that value and rely upon craigslist.

Note: Our announced intention to contribute 100% of net revenues for the “erotic services” category to charity has been fulfilled, and will continue to be fulfilled, notwithstanding criticism questioning our good faith in this regard. However, in light of today’s changes, and to avoid any future misunderstanding, we are making no representation regarding how revenue from the “adult services” category will be used. Our commitment to philanthropy remains, and craigslist will continue to develop its charitable initiatives.

Response to CT AG Letter

April 22, 2009

We very much appreciate this new input from Attorney General Blumenthal, and look forward to a continuing collaboration with his office, the other Attorneys General, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). We appreciate his acknowledgement of the progress we have made since he and 42 other US Attorneys General joined us in announcing new protective measures 6 months ago. We also agree that there is more work to be done, not just by craigslist but by all Internet-based services, working cooperatively with law enforcement officials, to eliminate illegitimate activity to the greatest extent possible.  craigslist is fully engaged in pursuing this goal, and has several initiatives underway that speak to the concerns expressed in Mr. Blumenthal’s letter, concerns which we also share. craigslist intends to play an ever larger leadership role with respect to Internet safety and security, and we invite and appreciate any and all input from Attorneys General, from NCMEC, from law enforcement agents, and from non-profit organizations.  We will have more to say on this subject in the days and weeks ahead.

Boston suspect apprehended

April 20, 2009

We were relieved to learn that the person alleged to have committed these crimes has been arrested, and we will continue to provide law  enforcement agencies with any assistance they may require for prosecution of this case.

We were grateful to hear that the Boston Police Department was very pleased with the citizen response to this investigation, including the number of leads they got, which they attributed to the popularity of craigslist.

Despite this arrest, we urge craigslist users to continue to exercise the same common sense precautions online as they would offline, for example always choose a public place with other people around when meeting someone for the first time.

 

Tragedy Strikes in Boston

April 17, 2009

Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Julissa Brisman. We are horrified and deeply saddened that our community services have been associated in any way whatsoever with a crime of violence.

We will of course do everything in our power to assist law enforcement in apprehending the perpetrator as soon as possible.

Given the crime rate in society at large, it is remarkable how exceedingly few crimes have any connection with the 50 million Americans using craigslist each month. This reflects the good intentions of virtually all craigslist users, the effectiveness of staff efforts to prevent crime from reaching the site, and perhaps realization among criminals that using craigslist in connection with a crime is a virtual guarantee that they will be caught. Any misuse of craigslist for crime is unacceptable however, and we will not rest until it is eliminated.

Sadly, just as in society as a whole, terrible tragedies are possible despite everyone’s best efforts. We are evaluating this incident closely to see if there are any additional things craigslist could be doing to further improve safety for our users and the general public.

While incidence of violent crime on craigslist is vanishingly low, the risk is not zero, and it behooves us all to take common sense precautions online as we do offline. Personal safety tips for community members are prominently posted throughout the craigslist website and include the following recommendations from safety experts;

  • Insist on a public meeting place like a cafe
  • Tell a friend or family member where you’re going
  • Take your cell phone along if you have one
  • Consider having a friend accompany you
  • Trust your instincts, and report any suspicious activity to authorities

April 1, 2009

Kudos to law enforcement in southern Oregon for arresting the perpetrators behind this outrage.

Covering your tracks by posting on craigslist has about as much chance of success as pinning your name and number to door of the local police precinct.

Criminals take a giant risk when they use craigslist in conjunction with illegal activity, since an electronic trail is created that law enforcement officers can easily follow.

George Weber

March 25, 2009

Our hearts go out to the family, friends, coworkers and many fans of George Weber. We are horrified and deeply saddened that craigslist may have been associated with a violent crime. We will of course provide law enforcement investigators with any assistance they require in pursuing their investigation.

We take many steps to prevent criminal misuse of craigslist and, in particular, to protect the safety of users. These measures include encouraging users, when meeting someone for the first time, to insist on meeting in a public place, to tell a friend or family member where they’ll be, to take along a cell phone, and to consider taking a friend with them.

While violent crime is exceedingly rare on craigslist, with only a handful of cases known out of billions of face-to-face human interactions facilitated through the site, sadly, there is a risk whenever meeting a stranger for the first time.


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