AG Cautions Craigslist Could Become The 'Wild West'
McMaster argues that granting Craigslist's request will turn the site into "the functional equivalent of the 'Wild West.'"
"Plaintiff will be free to develop categories such as 'Murder for Hire,' 'Preferred Prostitutes,' or 'Drug Supermarket,' with absolute impunity, and states will be helpless to stop the resulting destruction and chaos within their borders," McMaster argues in his legal papers.
Craigslist has faced complaints from law enforcement officials since at least last November for allegedly hosting prostitution ads. Criticism intensified this spring, following the murder of masseuse Julissa Brisman, who was allegedly killed by a Boston University student who answered Brisman's ad on the site's "erotic services" section.
In response to the scrutiny, Craigslist shuttered its "erotic services" section in May and replaced it with a monitored "adult" category. But critics say that many ads in the new adult category still appear related to prostitution.
Even though Craigslist changed its policies, the site and its defenders have consistently argued that it had no obligation to do so because the federal Communications Decency Act says that Web sites are immune from liability for illegal ads posted by users.
But McMaster argues that Craigslist should be held responsible for prostitution ads on its site because it "encouraged" them. "By creating the 'Erotic Services' section of its websites, plaintiff encouraged development of the very advertisements at the heart of the Attorney General's expressed concerns," he argues in legal papers.
That stance is similar to one taken in court by Chicago Sheriff Thomas Dart in his lawsuit against the site. In that case, Dart argues that Craigslist can't rely on the immunity provisions of the Communications Decency Act because the company helped develop allegedly unlawful listings by creating the "adult" category.
In South Carolina, McMaster also argues that the federal court should not get involved in a pending state probe. "Plaintiff will have ample opportunity to raise its various federal claims if and when it is prosecuted following the Attorney General's on-going criminal investigation."
On May 5, McMaster gave Craigslist an ultimatum: Remove all prostitution ads from the South Carolina sections of the site within 10 days or face potential criminal prosecution. Craigslist responded by asking a court to ban McMaster from following through on his threat.
Later that month, McMaster agreed to a temporary restraining order barring him from prosecuting company officials while the case was pending.