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Attorneys general target Backpage online classifieds

Some 21 state attorneys general have asked online classifieds service Backpage.com to remove adult services listings from its site, arguing the service is often used to promote prostitution and human trafficking—including trafficking in children. However, at least for the moment, Backpage.com is refusing to comply with the request, saying it works with law enforcement to prosecute anyone using the site illegally.

The argument is the same that was applied to Craigslist’s “adult services” section, which the company voluntarily removed from its site earlier this month owing to mounting political pressure. In taking down the section, Craigslist warned that law enforcement was losing a significant ally in its efforts to curb human trafficking and online prostitution, and that ad-placers would scatter to far less-cooperative online sites.

“Adult services sections are little more than online brothels, enabling human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children,” wrote Connecticut’s attorney general Richard Blumenthal. “Because backpage cannot properly police adult services, the section should be shut down immediately. Backpage has a moral—if not legal—obligation to purge ads that promote trafficking and sexual abuse of women and children.”

Backpage, however, shows no willingness to accede, saying in its blog that it “respectfully declines” the request, and says it works in good faith with law enforcement. “Backpage.com is disappointed that the AGs have determined to shift blame from criminal predators to a legal business operator in an apparent attempt to capitalize on political opportunity during the election season.”

Blumenthal characterizes removing adult services listings as “common-sense steps toward protecting women and children.”

The attorneys general don’t have any more authority to haul Backpage.com to court than they did with Craigslist: although it posting promoting illegal activities are illegal, federal law protects classified ads service from prosecution based on the postings of their users.

State attorneys general signing the letter were from the states of Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

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