Student Strip Search Ruled Unconstitutional by U.S. Supreme Court

Some good news on the constitutional rights front; the U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled a school official’s strip search of a public school student unconstitutional in violation of the student’s reasonable expectation of privacy guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment. The opinion can be accessed here:

http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/08-479.pdf

While school officials had sufficient cause to search outside the student’s clothing, she had a reasonable expectation of privacy that precluded the officials from demanding that she expose her pelvic area by pulling back her underwear. There was no indication that the student was hiding the suspected drugs in her underwear, thus preventing such an intrusive search in that location.  Score one for privacy rights.  Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the opinion was joined by the conservatives, including Scalia, Roberts and Alito. Thomas joined in the judgment but filed a dissenting opinion.  This is an important case and the Law of Sex reserves full editorial comment until the opinions can be fully scrutinized.

U.S. Representatives Demand Further Action from Craigslist Regarding Adult-Oriented Classified Ads

Members of the House of Representatives who helped push through the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act have directed a letter to Craigslist.com, demanding accountability and information relating to the site’s “Adult Services” ads.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/16485198/Craigslist-Letter-06-10-091

Apparently, its decision to delete the entire Erotic Services section in response to pressure from state Attorneys General was not enough for these representatives, who demand to know how the site will be punished if any further ads for illegal services are published. They also demand a ‘sit down’ with Craigslist.com representatives, to hash out their concerns.

All of this demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about how federal law protects interactive computer service providers like Craigslist.com. In case anybody forgot, Craigslist.com does not create, review or approve the ads posted to the site. It merely provides an online venue for third party users to post classified ads of their choosing. If service providers like Craigslist.com were held responsible for the content of material posted by third parties, the Internet would cease to function. Hosts could never review and approve every page of every website they host, to ensure that no illegal or inappropriate material appeared thereon. Search engines could not effectively deliver search results if each result needed to be scrubbed for compliance with 50 different states’ laws (and federal law to boot). Recognizing this reality, Congress passed Section 230 to the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. §230, immunizing online service providers from liability based on the content of user submitted material.

This immunity is seemingly ignored with greater frequency, when it is politically popular to do so. This is a disturbing trend. While Craigslist.com buckled to the pressure from the state AG’s to remove the Erotic Services section, it drew the line with South Carolina’s request to block all pornographic material from the state. The site may have to draw the line again, in the latest Congressional attempt to impose liability for violence against women who post escort ads. While this is certainly a sympathetic, hot-button issue sure to garner votes from constituents, the threat of imposing liability against a service provider like Craigslist.com generates potentially disastrous impacts for online communications. Stand your ground, Craigslist!  The consequences of giving in are too important for the rest of us.