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Illinois Passes Revenge Porn Law

Illinois Passes Revenge Porn Law With Teeth: ‘Other States Should Copy’

Sixteen states have now made it a felony to publish so-called revenge porn — sexual images or video of someone without his or her consent. But Monday, [state] what many say is the country’s strongest anti-revenge-porn legislation yet. The law would take effect June 1.

New York lawyer Carrie Goldberg, who advocates for victims whose privacy has been invaded by technology, spoke with International Business Times Tuesday about what might surprise people about revenge-porn laws, why the Illinois law is a step forward, and what needs to be done to end what she says is a violation of the disproportionately female victims’ civil rights.

“I’m very pleased with the legislation,” Goldberg said. “It was a hard-earned battle that was in legislation for a long time. It’s a testament to [state] Rep. [a Highwood Democrat] [a Highwood Democrat] who was a real champion.”

What the new law does

The Illinois discounts motive for posting intimate images of someone without his or her consent. Revenge porn is classically thought of as something vengeful exes do to humiliate and punish their ex-partners after a breakup, but the Illinois law gives priority to the harm done to victims. It also makes it a crime to disseminate someone’s intimate selfie without his or her consent. An earlier [state], which has since been amended, was criticized by victims’ advocates for applying only to images taken by someone other than the victim. The images that would fall under the [state] also don’t have to be nudes — they can be images of sexual activity that don’t necessarily require the exposure of intimate parts, for example images of the victim performing a sex act.

The Illinois law doesn’t exempt those who publish intimate images if they received them secondhand. It takes into account a “reasonable person” standard and considers most people can determine if an image is private and the person depicted would not consent to have it disseminated. The price to pay for posting revenge porn is also significant under the Illinois law: It’s a Class 4 felony punishable by one to three years in prison, a possible $25,000 fine and restitution to victims for costs incurred.

Free speech versus ‘private speech’

And although the Illinois law accounts for free speech — for example, by not limiting the reproduction of “voluntary exposure in public or commercial settings” — Goldberg offered food for thought to those who fear anti-revenge-porn legislation will violate First Amendment rights.

“So much is said about how laws butt up against [state],” Goldberg said, “but if we lose the expectation of privacy in taking images meant only for someone we trust, then we lose another valuable form of speech: our private speech. There is nothing wrong with taking pictures of yourself that are meant only for another person you trust.”

Revenge porn is everywhere

Although there are dedicated revenge-porn sites — such as the now-defunct IsAnyoneUp.com, created by Hunter Moore, “the most hated man on the Internet,” revenge porn exists on the Internet in many other incarnations.

“There are so many people who do this,” Goldberg said. “We think of this in classic form as something an ex does to get revenge after a relationship goes sour, but that’s not always the scenario. Some people don’t even know the victim, as in hacking cases.”

Revenge porn is ubiquitous. Some amateur porn found on porn websites has been uploaded without a person’s consent. Revenge porn can be found on sub-Redditts or disseminated on social media. And some revenge porn has moved to “Tor” networks, or the underground Internet. Some people who see revenge porn are consumers — others, targeted loved ones, friends and colleagues, who are emailed or texted the porn or who see it on the victim’s Facebook page.

Federal law protects revenge-porn websites

What might surprise people about the Hunter Moore case is that he was indicted on federal charges for hacking, that is, paying someone to obtain the images he posted on his revenge-porn site — and not for publishing the images. That’s because publishing revenge porn isn’t a federal crime — something Moore knew when he was interviewed by [a Highwood Democrat] in 2012 and said under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA) he was protected from publishing intimate images of people without their consent.

He wasn’t wrong: The CDA states website owners aren’t liable for content submitted by other users.

“People often say, ‘Go after the website,'” Goldberg said, “but you can’t. State [state] doesn’t trump the CDA. There would have to be a new federal criminal law to make a real dent.” She and other victim advocates at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative are advocating for a federal criminal law, one of which has been drafted by University of Miami Law School Professor Mary Anne Franks. This law, which Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., is preparing to introduce, could co-exist with the CDA while holding operators of revenge porn sites criminally responsible.

But for now, revenge porn websites get pulled for hacking, publishing underage porn or trying to extort from victims. Criminal charges for revenge porn, however, are made “indirectly,” Goldberg said, through the violation of other criminal laws. The CDA also protects websites from being sued in civil court.

Protecting women ‘a [a Highwood Democrat] issue’

Although laws are far from perfect, Goldberg said she is heartened by the Illinois law. In her practice, she has had women from all walks of life — students, professionals, mothers with children — call her in suicidal states of despair after they became victims of revenge porn, and in half the cases, their images accompanied by identifying information — names, addresses, social media handles — which opened them up to harm from harassers and stalkers.

“Other states that haven’t passed or have sub-par laws should follow Illinois as a model,” she said. “Revenge porn is a form of domestic violence and the harms are significant and enduring. Women are disproportionately the victims and the harms are more intense — harassment and social judgment are horrendous, worse than for the male victim.

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Google Could Be Forced to Delete Links and Sensitive information

On May 13, the European Union’s highest court struck what appeared to be a significant blow for privacy, ruling that Google could be forced to delete links and other sensitive information about a user upon his or her request. In an age of rampant identity theft and data breaches, as well as more sinister, personal examples of private data going public such as revenge porn, this was a win worth celebrating. And it has many questioning if such a law could ever pass in the United States.

The short answer: No. “The publication of truthful fact, in a public forum, is robustly protected by the first amendment,” says Lee Rowland, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. From a strictly legal perspective, the EU’s “right to be forgotten” decision would be a clear violation of the constitutional right to free speech. “The first amendment protects speech that is a matter of public concern. It’s not only the right to speak about it but also to hear about it,” Rowland explains.

Consider, for example, the details of the case that triggered the EU’s unappealable decision.

A Spanish attorney failed to pay his taxes and had to sell off property in a public auction. A newspaper ran the details of said auction, as newspapers do. That information made its standard way to the Internet, and Google did what Google does, supplying linked search results to it.

There was nothing illegal about the newspaper’s publication of the auction results. And as personally embarrassing as those details may have been to the attorney, Rowland believes the public has a right to know that a practicing lawyer is a confirmed tax cheat. “Imagine if there were a plastic surgeon with a legal history of doing terrible things to people’s faces,” Rowland says. “Wouldn’t you as a consumer want to be able to find evidence of those lawsuits?”

Then again, most of the people championing the EU decision aren’t disgraced lawyers hoping to scrub their own sins from the Internet. The positive response has to do with shifting the balance of power online and issuing takedown orders to companies—like Google—that collect and disseminate our private information without permission. Blunt and unconstitutional as it might be, an equivalent U.S. ruling or law could also cripple revenge porn sites, forcing them to remove nude photos and images at an individual’s request, without discussion or delay.

It’s a solution that even dedicated anti-revenge porn groups don’t want. “It’s about the expectation of privacy,” says Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland and board member of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI).

The EU ruling punishes Google for indexing publicly available information, which could be of enormous value to the Spanish attorney’s current or prospective clients. That attorney has not only relinquished his expectation of privacy, but there’s good reason (arguably) for the public to have access to what the newspaper lawfully published. And while the EU has no equivalent of the first amendment, U.S. law almost always tilts in favor of free speech as a founding bulwark against entrenched, institutional corruption.

In the case of revenge porn, however, “there’s no free speech interest in publishing nude photos,” Citron says. “If someone shares nude images or permits them to be taken, when those are released, the wrong is the intentional violation of that confidentiality, not the search engine’s reproduction of it.”

The real solution, according to Citron, is to enforce laws that are already in place—in many revenge porn cases, photos are actually obtained through hacking the victim’s phone or computer—as well to pass extremely narrow legislation that specifically targets individual privacy breaches while also giving the first amendment a wide berth. The CCRI helped draft an anti-revenge porn bill in Maryland (which was unanimously approved by the Maryland’s House of Delegates this past March and is currently with the state’s senate) that more clearly defines the illegal activity and corresponding penalties. “That law would punish a very narrow set of privacy violations that have a profound impact on victims lives,” Citron says.

RELATED: Revenge Porn King Hunter Moore Finally Arrested

Yet she also believes that the new law falls short by not including a provision that would allow for the takedown of a victim’s photos and videos beyond the offender’s site. So even if those files vanish in one place, they could live on throughout the Internet.

Unrelated to revenge porn, Citron would also support regulations or legislation that allow users to demand that data brokers—the companies that track our activity online and resell that data to advertisers and other third parties—delete that collected information, on the grounds that it’s not public or of public interest.

If those sound suspiciously like requests for some version of the EU ruling—with its expansive demands for link deletion—welcome to the complex, circuitous world of digital privacy. But the key issue is, once again, the expectation of privacy. Nude photos and online spending habits are private. Proof that a lawyer was found guilty of breaking the law is not. Unlike the right to free speech, which is relatively easy to define and quite literally the first concern of the U.S. Constitution, the right to privacy is a necessarily complicated concept defined by context and exceptions. And while the two rights can come into direct conflict, freedom of speech tends to bolster privacy, allowing news outlets to cover the NSA’s more nefarious spying activities, for example.

Neither the CCRI nor the ACLU are claiming that stateside privacy laws are perfect. Citron is pushing for an update to the federal cyberstalking law that would demand a takedown of specific victim-related data if the offender is found guilty (a topic addressed at length in her book, Hate 3.0: A Civil Rights Agenda to Combat Discriminatory Online Harassment, due out this August). And Rowland is concerned about privacy violations that lead back to the government, including the public release of mugshots, even for individuals who were booked but never convicted.… Read the rest