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Craigslist Sues Over Threat Of Prosecution

Publication Date: 
May 21, 2009
San Francisco Chronicle
Verne Kopytoff

Ryan Calo, fellow at the Center for Internet and Society, is quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle article that discusses a lawsuit filed by Craigslist against South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster. Craigslist accuses McMaster of violating its constitutional rights with his threats of prosecution over the company's adult services ads:

In the suit, Craigslist said the attorney general's repeated threats are chilling its free speech and violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which prevents states from regulating business that takes place outside its borders. The company is asking the court to prevent McMaster from making further threats or from carrying them out.


Ryan Calo, a fellow at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, said that it's relatively unusual for companies to file suits to stop threats by government officials, given that such threats themselves are uncommon. He said that Craigslist had tried to take a more conciliatory approach with various state officials about prostitution but was backed into a corner by South Carolina's attorney general.

"This is uncharacteristically aggressive, but I should stress that I think the circumstances warrant it," Calo said.

He pointed to the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, as probably protecting Craigslist from prosecution and giving it the upper hand in its efforts to silence South Carolina's attorney general. It says that Internet companies cannot be held legally responsible for what their users post.