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Revenge Porn Ban to Be Proposed at Federal Level

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Revenge Porn Ban to Be Proposed at Federal Level
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While various efforts to ban so-called “revenge porn” have been taken at the state level, there hasn’t yet been a push at the federal level to enact laws to criminalize non-consensual online distribution of sexual content. According to reports, this is about to change.

US News says that California Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat, is going to introduce legislation “sometime next month” to do just that. It’ll be the first time the issue is tackled on the national stage.

The bill will “criminalize the non-consensual online dissemination of lewd content by jilted lovers and hackers,” according to Speier’s office.

Speier’s home state of California recently enacted statutes banning revenge porn, or more specifically photographing or video recording “by any means the image of another, identifiable person without with his or her consent who is in a state of full or partial undress in any area in which the person being photographed or recorded has a reasonable expectation of privacy, and subsequently distributes the image taken, where the distribution of the image would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress with the intent to cause serious emotional distress.” That’s the language of the law, which is actually built on top of California’s existing Peeping Tom laws.

First offenses carry possible jail time and fines.

California isn’t the only state taking on revenge porn, but you’d have to assume that Rep. Speier’s motivation and blueprint comes from her state’s passage of the country’s first specific anti-revenge porn laws.

As we’ve discussed before, criminalizing revenge porn doesn’t just affect the “jilted ex-lovers” who post it online, but also the revenge porn websites and web hosting companies. The latter tend to be able to stand behind the famous section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, which protects websites from being liable for user-submitted content. Specifically targeting revenge porn and making it a criminal act federally would weaken such a defense.

Although it might seem easy, on the surface, to fully support any sort of ban on a disgusting thing like revenge porn (which some groups have taken to calling “cyber rape”), there are those out there that are wary of new revenge porn laws–especially on a federal level.

The American Civil Liberties Union previously expressed concern over California’s revenge porn law, citing a potentially negative impact on free speech, for example “if someone wanted to share a photo that had political implications or if a photo or video contained evidence of a crime.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also been critical of such bills, saying that they “also criminalize victimless instances. And that’s a problem with the First Amendment.” It’s true that one could envision a scenario down the line where newsworthy images or video in the public interest stays hidden because of a federal law against dissemination of nude or “pornographic” images.

Anthony Weiner, anyone?

“Frequently, almost inevitably, statutes that try to do this type of thing overreach,” the EFF’s Matt Zimmerman told US News. “The concern is that they’re going to shrink the universe of speech that’s available online.” He went on to suggest that websites would “reflexively” remove content just to be on the safe side–thus endangering free speech and freedom of information online.

And finally, one has to worry about the language of such a federal law. What constitutes “porn”? What do words like “non-consensual” mean? Does it matter if the poster took the photos, or if the victim took the photos and gave them to the poster?

It’ll likely be a tricky issue for the legislature, and possibly even the courts way on down the road.

Image via Thinkstock

Revenge Porn Ban to Be Proposed at Federal Level
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