Archive for: June, 2017

Medical records join revenge porn, credit card numbers for Google removal

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has now added personal medical records to the list of things it’s willing to remove from search results upon request.

Starting this week, individuals can ask Google to delete from search results “confidential, personal medical records of private people” that have been posted without consent. The quiet move, reported by Bloomberg, adds medical records to the short list of things that Google polices, including revenge porn, sites containing content that violates copyright laws, and those with personal financial information, including credit card numbers.

The policy change appears aptly timed. Earlier this month, a congressionally mandated task force—The Health Care Industry Cybersecurity Task Force report—reported that all aspects of health IT security are in critical condition. And last month, the WannaCry ransomware worm affected 65 hospitals in the UK.

The BBC notes that in May, hackers demanded ransoms from patients who had gone to a Lithuanian clinic for plastic surgery procedures. The hackers had stolen pictures and other health information.

In the past, health records have also been posted online accidentally, Bloomberg notes. A pathology lab in India inadvertently published the health records of 43,000 patients in December, for instance. Those records include sensitive information, including names and HIV blood tests.

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Houston teacher cleared in revenge porn case


A middle school math teacher accused of illegally sending explicit videos of his former fiancé and her boyfriend has been cleared of wrongdoing, his attorney said Friday.

“He’s always maintained his innocence,” attorney Joe Mathew said of his client, Saul Eisenberg. “At the end, justice prevailed and the DA and grand jury did the right thing. He’s been cleared and has gotten his life back.”

Eisenberg, 29, was part of a complicated case that began in family court and ended up in criminal court last year after allegations of blackmail over homemade sex tapes surfaced. The case made national headlines after revelations the two couples knew each other through church.

The first couple – Leslie Amanda Hippensteel, 32, and John Ousley, 33 – divorced last year after four years of marriage.

The second couple – Eisenberg and his 25-year-old former fiancée were going through custody proceedings over their 6-year-old child.

Both couples attended Grand Lakes Presbyterian Church in Katy. Court records show Ousley had been having an affair with Eisenberg’s fiancée and the two made consensual videos of two sexual encounters.

Hippensteel apparently found the tapes and emailed them to Eisenberg, who then allegedly texted them to his mother and step-father. The videos also ended up on the pornography website. Publishing intimate videos without permission, especially of a former lover, is sometimes called “revenge porn”

Hippensteel and Eisenberg were each facing a misdemeanor charge of unlawful disclosure of intimate visual material. If convicted, both could have been sentenced to a year in jail.

Eisenberg’s attorney said Friday that a Harris County grand jury had declined to indict the teacher, effectively clearing him of wrongdoing.

In April, Hippensteel accepted an offer of pre-trial intervention, a form of probation. If she stays out of trouble for a year, the case will be dismissed. She could then have it expunged from her criminal history.

The case exploded across social media in November when Hippensteel was arrested for allegedly blackmailing Ousley with the sex tapes.

Ousley called the police after Hippensteel allegedly told him during their divorce proceedings that she would send the recordings to his employer, Houston Christian High School, if he did not pay her.

Ousley said he gave her $7,812.21. Hippensteel allegedly sent the sex tape to her ex-husband’s employer and Eisenberg after being paid.

Eisenberg was accused of forwarding the recordings to his mother and step-father.

Ousley said last year that he resigned from his job after he was confronted about the recordings.

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North Carolina bill to expand ‘revenge porn’ law gets final legislative OK

The General Assembly has given final approval to expand North Carolina’s “revenge porn” law to cases beyond those where the people already had relationships. (Photo credit: Pixabay)

The General Assembly has given final approval to expand North Carolina’s “revenge porn” law to cases beyond those where the people already had relationships.

The House voted unanimously Tuesday to accept changes approved by the Senate last week, sending the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.

Current law makes it illegal for someone to disclose nude or sexual images of a person without the person’s consent and with the intent to identify the person and cause harm.

ws now helping victims get justice

The bill would extend the penalties to cases involving strangers and would punish anyone who obtained such images without the permission of the person in the image.

It also calls to study whether the proposal should include instances in which a person’s image is superimposed onto another image containing nude or sexual content.

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Revenge Porn Is Now Illegal in New South Wales

After a lifetime of confusion surrounding revenge porn and what can be done to combat it, Parliament has finally drawn up a ‘Crimes Amendment (Intimate Images) Bill’ to deal with the legal punishment of those who capture and distribute indecent images of others without consent. And now, those who do it, will face years in jail.

The amendment means that any distribution of intimate images (either stills or video) of a person engaged in a private act, or exposing the person’s private parts, can lead to the legal punishment of the distributor—whether or not they took it is irrelevant. If they share it, they can go down for it.

Interestingly, the same punishment applies for someone who alters an image to expose a person indecently. This could range from completely photoshopping genitals onto a picture of a person who wasn’t showing them, to increasing the brightness and contrast on a flash photo to expose someone’s nipples. All is now wrong in the eyes of the law.

When defining what the law sees as ‘private parts’, the amendment of Crimes Act’s description is surprisingly inclusive, labelling them as either “a person’s genital area or anal area, whether bare or covered by underwear,” or “the breasts of a female person, or transgender or intersex person identifying as female.”

The definition of ‘distribution’ has changed too—people still in with a chance of going to jail for having the intimate images (without consent from the person in them), even if they haven’t shared it online. This could be to combat the fact that even if someone hasn’t actually sent a nude photo from their phone to another, they could have showed the screen to any number of people.

If a person intentionally distributes an intimate image of another person without consent then that person is 100 per cent guilty of an offence—with the maximum penalty being three years in prison.

You can also go to prison for three years for threatening to either record an intimate image or distribute an intimate image without consent.

In addition to this, the bill states that the offending party must take action to “remove, retract, recover, delete, or destroy any intimate images recorded or distributed” by them. Meaning that as well as doing time for their crime, they are also responsible for getting rid of all sources of the image—this responsibility was always a little lost in previous cases, meaning that the images often still existed somewhere.

This is, hopefully, a great step forward in combatting abuse and dealing with consent in the digital age.

If you want to read the full Crimes Amendment Bill, you can do so, here.

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Cyber Abuse: Tackling the Revenge Porn Epidemic

The internet age has brought with it many new challenges for the law and human rights, but few are as insidious as the phenomenon known as ‘revenge porn’.

What is ‘sexting’ and ‘revenge porn’?

Sexting involves the sharing, typically by a mobile device, of sexually explicit images, videos or messages from one person to another. Sexting between consenting adults is, in itself, completely harmless, but it can create a risk of the ‘sexted’ material later being used as revenge porn.

Revenge porn is when a person shares, usually through an online medium, sexually explicit images or videos of another without their consent for the purposes of revenge. Figures from a US study indicate that 90% of revenge porn victims are female.

In truth, revenge porn is just a type – albeit the most notorious – of ‘non-consensual porn’, where erotic material is shared against the subject’s will. Revenge for a break-up is a common motivation behind this behaviour, but it can also be done to make money, as a form of intimidation, or even just for a ‘laugh’.

Why is it such a problem?

The consequences of revenge porn for the victim are devastating. Many develop symptoms of anxiety and depression, stemming from the betrayal of trust and constant fear that they might be recognised from explicit images. In some cases this material may be shared with a victim’s work or family, leading them to be fired and sometimes shunned by relatives. Victim-blaming is rife in cases of revenge porn, which only adds to the distress suffered. It’s clear that extreme harm is suffered by victims of revenge porn.

Perpetrators also have a tendency to share the victim’s personal details, putting them at risk of being stalked or worse. In one case, Kayla Laws received death threats after an image of her was posted to a now-defunct revenge porn website.

As younger generations become increasingly tech-literate, there is an emerging problem of minors creating and sharing explicit images that find their way onto the internet. Once online this material is nearly impossible to control, and can be easily accessed by pedophiles hidden behind a veil of anonymity. Indeed, the Lanzarote Committee of the Council of Europe has recently announced a new round of monitoring that will focus in part on this specific issue.

The human rights angle

There are two competing rights that lie at the heart of this problem: the right to a private life guaranteed by Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention, and freedom of expression protected by Article 10.

Revenge porn is a gross violation of the victim’s privacy, exposing highly personal images to thousands without their consent. It is an intimate form of abuse that not only degrades the victim, but robs them of their private identity – and for many this is where the conversation ends.

However, the US has faced particular difficulty in outlawing revenge porn due to the robust protection of free expression in the First Amendment. The fear among free speech advocates is that any restriction on what one can post to the internet could lead to a ‘slippery slope’ that opens the door to more draconian forms of censorship.

Under the Human Rights Convention, which takes effect in UK law through the Human Rights Act, free expression may be restricted for several reasons, including:

  • For the purposes of public safety;
  • To protect the reputation and rights of others; and
  • To prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence.

So what’s being done about revenge porn?

The first concern of many victims is to ensure that the revenge porn is taken down. But this is easier said than done. Once an image or video is uploaded to the internet it can circulate very quickly, and anyone can download it to their computer where it becomes very difficult for the authorities to find. To address this, efforts are being made to deter people from posting revenge porn in the first place.

Prior to 2015, victims had to rely on obscenity laws and offences relating to harassment and blackmail to get justice, but these were ill-suited to the problem. Revenge porn has now been criminalised in the UK by section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. This makes it a criminal offence, punishable by up to two years in prison, to disclose a ‘private sexual photograph or film’ without the consent of the subject, and with the intention of causing distress.

But there are concerns that this does not go far enough. It can be very difficult to prove that a perpetrator intended to cause distress. The law also does not cover people who share non-consensual porn for financial or other reasons – such as the hacker who leaked private pictures of A-list celebrities in 2014.

There are also questions as to how far criminality should extend in these cases. Should people who view or subsequently share revenge porn be criminally liable? Should the owners of websites be responsible for ensuring that revenge porn is not displayed on their site?

These are questions that will have to be answered, but for the moment it is clear that the authorities are not holding back on using the new criminal offence. It was reported in September 2016 that over 200 people have been prosecuted under the new law.

About the Author
Saxon Norgard

Saxon Norgard

Saxon is an undergraduate at Cardiff University studying a Bachelor of Laws. Originally hailing from Australia, his interests lie in family law, international affairs and human rights. View all posts by Saxon Norgard.

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Zimbabwean Activists Call for Specific Laws to Fight Revenge — Women & Girls

With the rise of smartphones and social media, the problem of revenge pornography is growing across sub-Saharan Africa. But countries such as Zimbabwe have failed to introduce laws to protect victims against this destructive trend.

Being crowned Miss World Zimbabwe 2015 was a dream come true for 27-year-old model Emily Kachote. But her dream was short-lived – barely a month after being crowned, she was forced to relinquish her title amid allegations that nude pictures of her were circulating on the internet.

Although the Miss Zimbabwe Trust, which runs the pageant, never produced any evidence of the photos – to this day, Kachote hasn’t seen any – she was dismissed after an investigation in which the organizers said she had given contradictory statements about how and when the photos may have been taken. Kachote has always insisted that she never knowingly posed for any nude photos, and has since sued the trust for wrongful dismissal and defamation of character, in a case that is still ongoing.

Even if she manages to clear her name, Kachote believes irreparable damage has been done. “People believe whatever they read whether true or not, so they believe I posed for nude pictures even though they have never seen them, and I now bear that label,” she says.

She says the scandal has also cost her potential modeling work. “When people want to employ you, one of the first things they do is Google you. Unfortunately, the first things they see are nude picture headlines,” she says.

Kachote is only one of what activists say is a growing number of women who find themselves the victims of revenge pornography every year.

Revenge porn is defined by the U.K. Criminal Justice and Courts Bill as the “non-consensual sharing of photographs or films which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public.” Globally, activists have identified it as a new form of gender-based violence (GBV).

In parts of the world where there’s a great emphasis on female chastity, it’s often the victims who end up shouldering the blame and stigma associated with revenge porn.

A 2016 research paper by the Malawi Human Rights Commission and the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre in Norway focused on the phenomenon in Malawi and Uganda and found that revenge porn is broadly seen as “a problem of user naivete rather than GBV” and as such “women who are perceived as deviating from the norm, for example, by allowing themselves to be photographed naked, are derided and chastised in the court of public opinion for it.”

Monica Kirya, a coauthor of the report, says revenge pornography “is a particularly egregious type of crime since it results in the blaming and ostracizing of the victim.”

And, like many other countries, Zimbabwe doesn’t have a law that specifically addresses the problem. Currently, cases of revenge porn are usually dealt with under anti-pornography or anti-obscenity provisions in the law.

For many activists, the current laws don’t go far enough in protecting the victim. Zimbabwe’s anti-pornography laws do not identify the non-consenting parties as victims, which has resulted in many people who are the targets of revenge porn being threatened with charges or being charged for “acting” in and distributing pornographic material.

Women’s rights organization Katswe Sistahood wants to change this and is lobbying the country’s lawmakers to include the criminalization of revenge porn within the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill, which was proposed in 2016 and is currently still at the public consultation stage.

“For me the focus is now on trying to protect women, because most of the victims of revenge pornography are women,” she says. “The law as of now does not define a victim and a perpetrator in this issue. So, whether victim or perpetrator, the punishment is still the same.”

David Hofisi, a human rights lawyer who reviewed the draft bill on behalf of the Katswe Sistahood, says in his report that while the proposed bill criminalizes pornography, the law is too broad and overly punitive. It fails to address the destructive motivations behind revenge porn.

“It stifles any debate on the important subject of revenge pornography as the provision makes it an offense to produce and possess pornography of whatever kind,” Hofisi says in the report. Hofisi says the proposed law needs to explicitly address “the offense of violating a person’s computer system or breaching trust and sharing information over a computer system with the intention of causing harm.”

Katswe Sistahood’s director, Talent Jumo, says including an anti-revenge porn statute makes sense given the popularity of smartphones and social media platforms.

So far, she says, she knows of no cases of revenge porn victims successfully getting justice, even when they know the perpetrator.

“Something has to shift drastically,” Jumo says. “Because clearly, the issue of revenge porn is gendered.

“When a sex tape is leaked, society will slut-shame, and even ostracize, the woman while the man is praised for his virility. Criminalizing revenge porn will be a demonstration of our commitment to gender justice and equity,” she says.

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Massachusetts congresswoman Katherine Clark targets cyber threats, harassment

WASHINGTON — A Massachusetts congresswoman who has been the target of cyber threats unveiled legislation this week that seeks to curb online harassment and other internet-related crimes.

Contending that federal policies have not kept up with online abuses, U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, formally introduced legislation Tuesday that would give local and federal law enforcement officials resources to investigate and prosecute a range of internet-based crime and threats.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, is known as the Online Safety Modernization Act. It targets online threats known as “doxxing,” where victims’ private addresses and other personal information are released online; non-consensual pornography, in which victims’ private photos are published without permission; and “sextortion,” where private images are used against victims to coerce sexual activity or money.

Clark’s legislation also aims to combat the practice of “swatting,” where people anonymously make false reports prompting a heavily armed police response to a victim’s home — an attack Clark fell victim to in early 2016.

The bill includes provisions similar to those contained in legislation the Massachusetts Democrat pushed in 2016.

Massachusetts congresswoman fighting ‘swatting’ calls falls victim to one

Clark said her legislation looks to give law enforcement and prosecutors the ability and resources they need to go after these types of serious online abuses — efforts that today are stymied by jurisdictional questions, lack of training and other issues.

The congresswoman added that she hopes to address law enforcement’s understanding of the impacts these online crimes can have. She said she has heard from several victims who feel their cases weren’t handled adequately. In one example, Clark said she heard from a journalist who was simply told to stay offline following such attacks.

“We are hoping to both modernize our penal code, but also really begin to change the culture to understand that these are not just virtual crimes and people can just sign off the internet for awhile,” she said in an interview. “These are serious attacks on people that endanger them and also endanger their ability to make a living.”

The legislation, which Clark cast as a “roadmap” for Congress to address online safety, would specifically prohibit use of a victim’s sexually intimate visual depictions to extort or coerce, forcing victims to produce sexually intimate visual depictions, knowingly transmitting false information in an effort to cause an emergency law enforcement response, and knowingly publishing a victim’s personally identifiable information with the intent to harm.

It would also provide an additional $4 million per year in enforcement resources to the FBI and Department of Justice; establish a $20 million-per-year grant program to train and equip state and local law enforcement, prosecutors and judicial personnel on cyber crimes; and set aside $4 million to establish a national resource center to help combat and study cyber crimes, among other things.

U.S. Rep Susan Brooks, R-Ind., who has signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation, said the measure is needed to appropriately prosecute and punish individuals who engage in cyber harassment.

“The fact of the matter is, the laws governing sextortion, doxxing and swatting were written when computers didn’t fit in our pockets, phones were plugged into walls and texting required a stamp,” she said in a statement. “In order to punish and prosecute these predators to the fullest extent of the law, we must bring our laws into the age of smartphones and SnapChat.”

Fellow co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., added, “this legislation empowers law enforcement to crack down on these activities, protects victims and will ultimately make the internet a safer place to connect with the world around us.”

US Rep. Katherine Clark to highlight online threats, harassment at SXSW festival

Several organizations have come out in support of the legislation, including the National District Attorneys Association, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Anti-Defamation League, National Network to End Domestic Violence, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and FBI Agents Association. Tech giant Facebook has also endorsed Clark’s bill.

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doxing swatting revenge porn federal crime

Revenge porn, doxxing, and swatting could become federal crimes under new bill

A number of tools of online harassment could well become illegal under federal law if a newly proposed bill in Congress is passed. Called the Online Safety Modernization Act of 2017, it would make revenge porn, swatting, and doxxing illegal at the federal level, in an effort to improve online safety, particularly for women.

Although online harassment comes in many forms, there are a number that have more serious consequences. Doxxing, the practice of outing someone’s personal information such as home address and contact details, can lead to real-world harassment, while revenge porn — the posting of embarrassing or explicit photos or video without someone’s permission — has obvious consequences of its own.

These and other dangerous online harassment tactics are what Democratic Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts wants to see criminalized federally, making them a crime no matter where the victim or harasser are located. Clark is no stranger to such criminal action, herself having been a victim of swatting in 2016 when she first proposed making the practice illegal across the country.

Designed as a “road map,” for Congress, as much as a federal mandate, the bill proposes not only criminalizing a number of harassment tactics, but would provide additional training and resources for all levels of law enforcement to deal with the crimes.

That could be particularly important considering the sensitive nature of some of them. Revenge porn posting and sextortion, in particular, require special care because the reporting of such crimes often brings about what the victim fears most: Increasing the visibility of the images they’re being targeted with, at least in the short term.

Overall, some $20 million in grants would be given out to state and local law enforcement to enhance investigations into digital crimes, while a further $4 million would be given to the attorney general for the creation of a new National Resource Center on Cybercrimes Against Individuals. That would lead to an annual report being created for statistics on online crime, giving a much better idea of how prolific they are.

Resources would also be allocated to see an additional 10 FBI agents assigned to tackling such crimes (thanks to The Verge).

Clarke hopes that the bill will also see communication improve between policing departs at the state and federal level, to better protect victims and improve the resolution of such criminal investigations.

Though a Democrat, Clarke describes the bill as bipartisan, and has received sponsorship from Rep. Susan Brooks, a Republican from Indiana, and Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, also Republican. Other endorsements from the bill have come from the private sector, with Facebook, which already plays a major part in tackling revenge porn, urging for its passing.… Read the rest