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Proposal for a Federal “Revenge Porn” Bill

Representative Jackie Speier announced Thursday, March 27th that she intends to introduce a federal bill criminalizing “revenge porn” into the house sometime next month.  Revenge porn is sexually explicit media of an individual that is posted on online or on websites without that person’s consent.  This media is usually posted as revenge by the ex of the individual, hence the name “revenge porn”.

One such website that caters to this type of activity is called isanyoneup.com.  This website, founded by Hunter Moore, allowed people to anonymously submit naked photos of themselves, as well as photos and videos of former lovers without their permission.  The individuals’ names and addresses would often be included with the photos.  Moore was being investigated since 2012 for hacking private computers in order to gain access to these pictures.  In January of this year, Moore was indicted for conspiracy, unauthorized access to a protected computer and aggravated identity theft.  However, if Moore had not engaged in hacking, there would be no case against him and his website would still be up.

The legislation that Representative Speier proposes to introduce would criminalize the non-consensual online dissemination of lewd content by jilted lovers and hackers.  California lawmakers have already passed legislation making it a misdemeanor to humiliate someone by leaking naked images of the person without consent.  New Jersey and Idaho are the only other states to have criminalized revenge porn.  More than twenty other states have proposed bills designed to address this issue.

Speier, along with many activists, believes that a federal law against revenge porn would provide legal protection for those victims of revenge porn in cases where the states have failed to pass legislation.  It would also convince cops that it is a real problem that they should act on.  Cops tend to presume that harassment laws do not apply to the behavior of the kind of people who post lewd images on websites.

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Internet providers and websites are not legally responsible for third-party content posted by their users, as long as the content does not violate intellectual property laws or federal criminal laws. Mary Anne Franks, a University of Miami law professor, is working on a bill that could make major Internet companies legally liable for sexually explicit content posted by their users.  Many opponents of this type of legislation believe that it is a violation of individuals’ First Amendment rights.  Others believe that instead of criminal liability, violators should only be civilly liable for posting revenge porn.