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August 2 2016

Federal Crackdown on Revenge Porn

Patrice L. Onwuka

Thinking about getting back at a former boyfriend or ex by posting a naughty photo online? Think again. If a federal bill moves forward, you may find yourself facing serious charges.

Before Congress gaveled out of session for a long summer break, one bill surfaced to give victims of revenge porn some legal protections by criminalizing those who spread it. Revenge porn is considered non-consensual pornographic images and video that are shared over the internet -usually by a spurned lover.

The bill, introduced by California Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier with a small group of bipartisan supporters, would make it a federal crime to post online or distribute nude or sexually explicit images with “reckless disregard” for the lack of consent of the person in the photos or videos. That applies to jilted lovers and those who shared the photos for profit. The penalty includes fines and up to five years behind bars.

The bill does make some exceptions from prosecution for internet providers (like Facebook and Twitter), law enforcement, or those reporting a crime. Too bad there wasn’t such a carve out for this U.K. dad.

The tech industry has been slow to get onboard. Not necessarily because they support revenge porn but because they could become the target of lawsuits. Twitter and Facebook eventually supported the bill, but Google is staying neutral according to reports. Perhaps because they have been actively involved along with other tech giants in crafting state legislation. Revenge porn laws are on the books in almost three dozen states, but the patchwork of laws was not enough and prompted Speier to push for Congressional action.

Fusion reports:

In the past three years, huge strides have been made toward ending revenge porn. More than half the states have passed laws criminalizing revenge porn. Reddit, Facebook, Google and Twitter have all recently banned nonconsensual nudes, as well. But the laws that exist are a confusing patchwork of legislation in which many states still offer scant protections for many of the situations in which non-consensual nudes end up online. Arizona’s recently passed law, for example, only criminalizes non-consensual nude images if they were actually shared with the intent of revenge. In Arizona, if those images are propagated, say, by one of the thousands of websites profiting off the distribution of women’s nudes against their will or nursing home staffers Snapchating compromising images of patients just for kicks, victims are left with no legal recourse.

“Across the country, 34 states have adopted their own bans on non-consensual pornography. Some of these laws are carefully crafted, but many have important elements lacking,” Speiers said, introducing the bill via Facebook Live.

Protecting victims is important, but this issue is not cut and dry. First amendment rights and issues need to be carefully considered, and questions also remain about whether federal intervention is needed and ought to trump state law.

After all, states have been painstakingly crafted their own protections with considerations for the citizens in their borders as well as their industries and economies. A broad sweeping federal legislation may at best be unnecessary and at worse cause unintended consequences.  Yet this is an important issue for policymakers to consider in our new internet age so that people's right to privacy--and more specifically, not to be embarrassed by their exes--are protected.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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