Craigslist and Law Enforcement Strike a Deal

By: Gerri L. Elder

As of November 6, it will be even riskier business for prostitutes and illegal escort services who regularly advertise on the popular Internet ad site, Craigslist. The Associated Press reported that the site has reached an agreement with law enforcement officials in 40 states to crack down on ads for illegal prostitution services and other ads connected with crime.

Under the agreement with attorney general offices across the country, Craigslist will require anyone posting an ad offering “erotic services” to provide a working telephone number and use a credit card to pay a fee to run the advertisement. If law enforcement subpoenas the information, Craigslist will hand it over.

According to Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist, the arrangement with law enforcement will allow legitimate escort services to continue running ads on Craigslist while making the ads a dicey legal proposition for illegal escort businesses and prostitutes.

Buckmaster says that the company views the agreement as raising accountability, rather than a penalty. He notes that any legitimate business should have no problem providing valid contact and payment information.

In addition to its pledge to work with law enforcement, Craigslist has filed lawsuits against 14 software and Internet companies that assist people who wish to post erotic services ads in circumventing the site’s system against inappropriate content and criminal activity.

Approximately 30 million ads per month are posted on Craigslist. The ads are for everything from jobs and apartment rentals to farm equipment and criminal defense attorneys.

In addition to the new agreement, the site has plans to implement a new search technology to help police find missing children and locate victims of human trafficking.

Authorities have already been scanning Web sites like Craigslist and arresting people who use them to advertise the sexual services of women and children. The agreement between Craigslist and attorney general offices will make criminal investigations easier and more arrests, prosecutions and convictions probable.

The agreement was brokered by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Blumenthal said that his office contacted Craigslist after receiving complaints from several users in 2007 about nude photos on the site.

He said that the web site fully cooperated and the threat of legal action against the company was never necessary.

Blumenthal says that he fully believes that Craigslist wants to stop criminal activity on its Web site as much as the authorities do.

Buckmaster says that Craigslist has been working with law enforcement on the issue of prostitutes who advertise in the personal ad section of the site for “dates”, although the current agreement does not cover the personal ads posted on the site. Craigslist is also cooperating with police and trying to cut back on the sale of stolen merchandise through ads on the site.

In sections of the site that run personal ads and merchandise for sale, Craigslist is experimenting with a phone verification system. Buckmaster says that the company has no plans to use credit card verification in those sections, but that the partnership with law enforcement will be active in all areas of the site where crimes may occur.

Additionally, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children joined into the agreement in hopes of halting the marketing of children on the Internet through Craigslist.