At first glance, the posting looked like any number of Internet classified ads seeking sex. But instead of the 27-year-old woman with long...

Share story

NEW YORK — At first glance, the posting looked like any number of Internet classified ads seeking sex. But instead of the 27-year-old woman with long brown hair advertised in the posting, a Seattle man collected the replies meant for her and posted them online — with photos, names and contact information.

Privacy experts say the case treads the line legally but crosses it morally.

“It’s a sad commentary overall,” said Lauren Weinstein, a veteran computer scientist and privacy advocate. “It’s one of those situations where both sides look bad.”

It all began with Jason Fortuny’s posting on Craigslist. According to his Web journal, Fortuny took a real ad and reposted it so that responses went straight to him. Among the 178 responses were 145 photos of men “in various states of undress.” The replies included e-mail addresses, names and, in some cases, instant-messaging accounts and phone numbers.

Fortuny then posted all the replies on a Web site devoted to parodies and satires online.

It’s by no means the first time information thought private has been posted online.

In this case, however, the men who replied did not appear to be doing anything illegal, so the outing has no social value other than to prove that someone could ruin lives online, said Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor at Oxford and Harvard universities.

Whether Fortuny violated any laws is less clear, he said.

Craigslist Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster said Fortuny’s actions violated the site’s policies. He noted that the ad was removed several times, only to be reposted.

Kurt Opsahl, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Craigslist would be protected under federal law exempting service providers from liability for what their users do. Fortuny’s liability under Washington law, he said, rests on whether the disclosures are of legitimate concern to the public.

“As far as I know, they [the respondents] are not public figures, so it would be challenging to show that this was something of public concern,” Opsahl said.