Sometimes I just don’t know what to say. Philip James Conran of West Hartford, CT faces various criminal charges after he confessed to placing a Craigslist ad titled “Looking for lust,” seeking multiple partners to fulfill a group-sex fantasy–and providing the address of a neighbor with whom he was feuding. Strange men started driving past her house and parking on the street; strange and bolder men knocked on her door. She called police, who tracked down the accused through Craigslist and his ISP. One respondent went to the wrong address and fondled a teenage girl. Police arrested and charged him with sexual assault and other crimes.
There’s a depressing amount of vile behavior in this little story.
Here are a few of things accumulating in my browser tabs:
- Google: Most takedown notices are illegitimate. (This is over a month old. Where have I been?) “According to a story in PC World, Google says 57 percent of the takedown notices it has received under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act were sent by businesses trying to undermine a competitor. About 37 percent of the notices weren’t valid copyright claims.” Remember these figures when discussing whether CDA Section 230 should be amended to include a notice-and-take-down requirement. A takedown provision’s incentives to lash back at critical but protected speech would do little to enhance the quality of online discussion and add more fodder for disputes.
- Philip Markoff allegedly killed a woman in a Boston hotel room in a robbery gone awry, a liaison arranged through Craigslist’s erotic services section. Markoff is also accused of robbing two other women in Craigslist-mediated hotel hook-ups. The bulletin board website’s role has led, predictably, to calls for Craigslist to monitor its postings for prostitution and other similar activities. An article on Law.com quotes Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal as saying “Craigslist has the means — and moral obligation — to stop the pimping and prostitution in plain sight.” Blumenthal spearheaded a similar effort last year that led to a consent agreement between Craigslist and 40 state attorneys general in which Craigslist agreed to collect phone and credit card numbers from those who advertise erotic services. Of this agreement Blumenthal said “Requiring phone numbers, credit cards and identifying details will provide a roadmap to prostitutes and sex traffickers – so we can track them down and lock them up.” The accountability procedures had an immediate effect; erotic service ads declined by 80%–and in some cities by 90%–after Craigslist adopted them. Still, after the Boston murder, Blumenthal believes Craigslist should be doing more. What, or how much more, Craigslist should do is not clear to me. Calling Markoff the “Craigslist Killer” is inevitable and more alliteratively appealing than “BU Medical School Killer,” but unfair to Craigslist. The site is not responsible for this murder. As the Supreme Court stated in Aschcroft v Free Speech Coalition-in a different context, but the principle still works–“[t]here are many things innocent in themselves, however, such as cartoons, video games, and candy, that might be used for immoral purposes, yet we would not expect those to be prohibited because they can be misused.” That something–a candy bar, an Internet bulletin board, file-sharing technology–can be used for unlawful ends should rarely be grounds for limiting its use. I understand the human desire after bad things happen to “do something!” but most often what we choose to do has a poor fit with what should be our objectives.
- The National Security Agency wants to be your cyberspace supercop. It is in the middle of a bureaucratic battle over which federal agency has responsibility for Internet security. The same agency that conducted the Bush Administration’s warrentless wiretapping, wants to have the power to access every network in the country for the ostensible purpose of security. The same agency that can only peek at our purely domestic communications if it has judicial approval wants the unfettered right to see it all. Seems like a bad idea.