The assault on Craigslist is being spearheaded by the Torquemada of Tech, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has made a specialty of investigating internet crimes. In the last year, while running for Senate, he has opened investigations involving Apple, Amazon and Google.
The irony is that Craigslist only began charging for sex back in November of in response to pressure from Blumenthal and an earlier coalition of AGs. The idea was that a fee would entail a credit card, leaving a financial trail for law enforcement to follow in pursuing suspicious postings. Information is a powerful disincentive and disinfectant to purveyors of illegal sex.
But now those same fees are being used to demonize Craigslist. No amount of money can justify the scourge of illegal prostitution, and the suffering of women and children who will continue to be victimized, in the market and trafficking provided by Craigslist. Many of the activities conducted on Craigslist do indeed constitute horrific crimes.
Hundreds of smaller classified sites also exist, some based outside the United States. A powerful lesson in internet policing can be gleaned from the death of the file sharing service Napster.
Rather than working with the site to crack down on illegal file sharing, the major record labels sued it out of existence. Instead, file sharing simply moved to a decentralized network of less visible sites. Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft and herself a victim of violence, recently wrote on her blog that Craigslistwith its national scale and ample resources, is the best possible partner for law enforcement.
The emergence of online classifieds has created a new platform for the illegal sex trade and enabled those criminals to be more mobile in their business. Craigslist, with its large collection of credit card data and telephone s, could at least help federal law enforcement to connect the dots across state lines.
The site could become a model for this kind of cooperation.
The alternative? Craigslist could bow to the pressure and shutter it adult services section. But if that happens, these crimes will simply move into the shadows—their scope and severity undiminished.
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