News Google to Aid Emerging Laws Battling Revenge Porn

  1. Google announced in its Public Policy Blog that it will soon provide a revenge porn removal request form to eliminate humiliating entries from appearing in search results. ( UPDATE July 7, 2015 - Google now has a revenge porn removal request form.) This new initiative was not intended to deal with any potential legal liability or compliance issue. The search engine giant reasoned that revenge porn in search results can be "intensely personal and emotional damaging" and suggested that it could be treated similar to "highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures." While the law generally moves slowly, the commitment of search engines towards removing revenge porn can provide an accelerated and meaningful remedy to victims.

    Revenge Porn and the Sextortion Problem


    The growth of user generated content and the ease of online publishing has made it painfully simple for vindictive people to humiliate former lovers. But the problem has grown beyond mere revenge motives, as evidenced by a spate of wanton mobile phone hacks. A vulnerability in Apple's iCloud storage system led to the unauthorized distribution of private nude photos of Kate Upton, Hope Solo and numerous other celebrities. The term "revenge porn" has been given a rather broad definition to include sexually explicit photographs or videos which have been distributed without the consent of a person who appears in the media.

    Leave it to the creative criminal mind to figure out a way to add insult to injury and make it profitable. Someone uploads private honeymoon photos featuring you to an adult oriented file sharing website. You suspect it's your ex-boyfriend but can't be 100% sure without proof. You contact the website owner to take down these explicit photos, as you insist the images were uploaded without your permission. The site owner responds that he isn't required to remove the offensive material and his legal terms provide no remedy. But they may remove the offending material after a review or investigation - provided you pay a hefty fee. Finding no viable solution to this "sextortion", you turn to the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) for help. But a DMCA takedown notice may not be available because the images technically aren't yours - they were taken by the ex-boyfriend using his camera. Even more disconcerting, the website founder enabling this malicious activity may actually be protected under the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230). (The "CDA" is federal law which makes certain Internet Service Providers immune from liability for user-generated or third-party content, such as a website that provides an image sharing service.)

    Prosecutors Target Revenge Porn Site Founders


    Hunter Moore - IsAnybodyUp.com


    The need for legislative action could be exemplified by Hunter Moore, once called by Rolling Stone as "the most hated man on the Internet." Specific revenge porn laws didn't exist when sextortion website, IsAnybodyUp.com, was founded in 2010. Moore was prosecuted for aiding and abetting hacking and aggravated identity theft - hiring hackers to find private smut to upload to the site. In early 2015, Moore pleaded guilty (as did accomplice Charles Evens) and faces up to seven years in prison and a minimum fine of $500,000.

    Kevin Christopher Bollaert - ChangeMyReputation.com, UGotPosted.com


    “At the beginning it was kind of fun and entertaining, but now it’s kind of ruining my life.” Kevin Christopher Bollaert.​

    Bollaert founded revenge porn website UGotPosted.com in 2012. Victims who "got posted" were directed to his ChangeMyReputation.com payment site for removal at a cost of $250 or more. Bollaert was found guilty of over two dozen felony crimes - 21 counts of identity theft and six counts of extortion. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison and required to pay restitution to his victims.

    New Jersey's Invasion of Privacy Statute


    The Tyler Clementi tragedy in 2010 resulted in one the first and most well known legal cases prosecuting revenge porn. New Jersey's Invasion of Privacy statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-9 makes it a criminal offense in the fourth degree for a person to capture and distribute images depicting certain sexual activities "knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so." Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei were students at Rutgers University. Ravi set up a hidden webcam to capture the activities of his roommate, Tyler Clementi, engaging in sexual activity with a male partner. The video stream was broadcast to Ravi's Twitter followers. Clementi, suffering from profound humiliation, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge which connects New York and New Jersey state. Wei reached a plea agreement with prosecutors. In 2012, Dharun Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail, a $10,000 fine, 3 years probation, 300 hours of community service and required to receive counseling.

    California Begins Trend of New Revenge Porn Statutes


    On October 1, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed Senate Bill 255, which made it a misdemeanor crime to post nude pictures of another person online without permission. A violation of the statute could result in a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. California Penal Code 647(j)(4), also known as the "Revenge Porn 2.0 Act", was revised a year later to include sexually explicit images meant to be private - regardless of who was responsible for creating the images. After California became the second state to enact a revenge porn law, other states followed suit. Almost two dozen states have statutes which address the problem to some degree. (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.) In 2014, Noe Iniguez became the first person convicted under the new California revenge porn statute. Following the breakup of a four year relationship, Iniguez continued to harass and subsequently posted a topless photograph of the victim on her employer's Facebook page, along with derogatory comments recommending termination of her employment.

    Florida's Sexual Cyberharassment Law


    Florida represents one of several recent efforts. As of October 2015, section 784.049 of the Florida Statutes makes revenge porn a misdemeanor crime in the first degree. The bill text of Florida's Sexual Cyberharassment law contains an excellent general description of the evils of revenge porn and to which the legislature sought to address.

    “Sexually cyberharass” means to publish a sexually explicit image of a person that contains or conveys the personal identification information of the depicted person to an Internet website without the depicted person’s consent, for no legitimate purpose, with the intent of causing substantial emotional distress to the depicted person.

    The growing number of cyberharassment and anti-bullying laws will help eliminate remaining loopholes that may exist in state and federal law concerning a growing online problem.
    Legal Practice:
    Crime - Sex Crimes
    Jurisdiction:
    • California
    • US Federal
    • Other

    Michael M. Wechsler

    Michael M. Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.

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