‘Gawker Bill’ Advances in Congress – Would Criminalize Revenge Porn

‘Gawker Bill’ Advances in Congress

nick denton

Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-California) recently introduced federal legislation targeting perpetrators who share nonconsensual pornography, also known as revenge porn, and the online predators who profit from the further distribution of such images.

The Intimate Privacy Protection Act (IPPA) is a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Reps. Katherine Clark (MA-5), Ryan Costello (PA-6), Gregory Meeks (NY-5), and Thomas Rooney (FL-17) and supported by numerous victims’ rights and legal organizations.

Some are referring to it as the ‘Gawker Bill’ because much of Gawker Media’s business has been built on stolen sex tapes and photos. In the highest profile case, Hulk Hogan sued Gawker after the blog published a video of him having sex with the wife of a Florida radio shock jock. Hulk Hogan was not their first victim: they were forced to pay damages to actress Rebecca Gayheart for publishing stolen sex photos criminally hacked from cellphones, and did the same thing to Scarlett Johanssen in 2011. Instead of apologizing, after removing the pictures they said: “Sorry folks—it was fun while it lasted!”

“Technology today makes it possible to destroy a person’s life with the click of a button or a tap on a cell phone,” Congresswoman Speier said. “The damage caused by these attacks can crush careers, tear apart families, and, in the worst cases, has led to suicide.”

The Gawker Bill would make it illegal for an individual to knowingly distribute sexually explicit material with reckless disregard for the victim’s lack of consent. The bill recognizes that the distribution of non-consensual pornography is a privacy violation, as non-consensual pornography is not always about revenge or harassment. Other examples of this would include recent cases of medical and law enforcement personnel sharing private, sexualized images of vulnerable individuals for entertainment purposes. The bill focuses on the harm caused to the victim rather than the motive of the perpetrator.

“It is important we provide victims of such serious violations of privacy a course for response,” Congressman Costello said. “The Intimate Privacy Protection Act would establish federal guidelines for this criminal activity and provide a course for response at a federal level.”

IPPA also provides safe-harbor protections for online intermediaries dealing with third-party content, while allowing the prosecution of sites that actively promote or solicit nonconsensual pornography. The bill, unlike some state laws, contains explicit statutory protections for First Amendment rights. This means that any disclosure of private information that is public, voluntary or in the bona fide public interest would not be criminalized.

“Right now millions of women and girls are online navigating their personal and professional lives. Sadly, they are the targets of the worst types of online abuses, including nonconsensual pornography,” said Congresswoman Clark. “The Intimate Privacy Protection Act ensures that our laws are keeping pace with threats in an online world that should be safe and open to everyone.”

Although 34 states have passed laws to address nonconsensual pornography, their approaches vary widely. A federal law is needed to provide a single, clear articulation of the elements of the crime and ensure that Americans in every part of the country have the means to protect themselves if they subjected to such abuse. That is why The Gawker Bill has earned strong support from victims’ rights organizations, constitutional law experts, social media companies and online organizations, and Democratic and Republican Members of Congress.

The Gawker Bill is supported by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative; Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; National Democratic Institute; National Organization for Women; Feminist Majority; Girls, Inc.; Facebook; and Twitter.

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Statements from supporters are listed below:

Erwin Chemerinsky, leading constitutional law scholar and Dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law: “The Intimate Privacy Protection Act needs to be passed by Congress to deal with a serious problem that has arisen with the development of the internet and social media: posting, without consent, of nude photographs and videos of sexual activity. Revenge porn has proliferated. There is no First Amendment problem with this bill. The First Amendment does not protect a right to invade a person’s privacy by publicizing, without consent, nude photographs or videos of sexual activity.”

Anisha Vora, nonconsensual pornography survivor: “After being a victim of nonconsensual pornography, I was always paranoid and had a fear for what could happen. After my ex-boyfriend posted intimate photographs of myself on numerous websites, resulting in them expanding to over 3,000 links, I knew my family and I were no longer safe. With strangers approaching me in public and online, and even attacking me in my own home, I decided to fight back. By passing a federal bill, other victims will be able to get justice, feel safe, and avoid some of the trauma and anguish that so many of us have already suffered.”

Erin Egan, Vice President of US Public Policy for Facebook: “Using intimate content to intentionally shame, embarrass or control someone is abhorrent – that’s why Facebook supports efforts like Congresswoman Speier’s to outlaw this practice. States around the country have passed legislation to criminalize the nonconsensual sharing of intimate images for the purpose of causing emotional distress. We proudly join consumer and safety advocates in pushing for the same at the federal level.”

Amanda Faulkner, US Public Policy Manager, Twitter: “The unauthorized distribution of intimate content is a form of abuse and something that is not tolerated on Twitter. We’re glad to see Rep. Speier and so many of our safety partners taking the lead on this important issue, and we’re proud to stand with them in support of this legislation.”

Victims’ Rights Attorney Carrie Goldberg: “At last count, my law firm has dealt with 919 sexually graphic images and videos published on the Internet without the consent of our client. Our clients are naked on a platter for strangers to devour without their consent. They become sexual entertainment without agreeing to be. Victims are harassed and blackmailed by strangers. Because the content appears in their search engine results, my clients fear they will never get hired and that nobody will want to date them. In religiously conservative cultures, victims are excommunicated. They are forced to move, quit school, change jobs, change their names. The consequences of nonconsensual porn are so serious and life-altering, federal criminal intervention is urgently needed. Just as we have laws that protect commercial interests like data and trade secrets, we as individuals also deserve intervention from the government.”

Mary Anne Franks, Professor of Law, University of Miami School of Law
and Legislative & Tech Policy Director, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative: “This bill is a triumph for privacy rights. Like private medical or financial information, private sexual information deserves protection and respect. The unauthorized disclosure of the most intimate moments of a person’s life, whether driven by malice, greed, or voyeurism, causes immediate and often irreversible harm. This bill is urgently needed to deter this conduct before it happens, and to offer victims the possibility of justice.
Sandra Pepera, Director for Gender, Women and Democracy at the National Democratic Institute: “All violence against women is wrong, and must be stopped. That includes unauthorized sexually explicit photos or film posted online which can be used to harass, threaten, and intimidate women in public life and politics. Congresswoman Jackie Speier and her colleagues are to be commended for their efforts to address these extremely important issues. The National Democratic Institute’s #NotTheCost initiative takes a comprehensive approach to stopping violence against politically active women, which has a chilling impact on the aspirations of women to lead, especially younger women.”

Annmarie Chiarini , nonconsensual pornography survivor and victims’ advocate: “In 2010 and again in 2011 I was a victim of non-consensual pornography. An ex-boyfriend attempted to auction off a CD on eBay that contained nude images of me that I had reluctantly allowed him to take over the course of our relationship. Fourteen months after the eBay auction, he posted the images on a porn website. He created a profile on the website that included my full name, the town where I live, the college and campus where I teach and a solicitation for sex. He was pretending to be me and was having conversations with the people who left violent and threatening comments on the images. The profile had been viewed over 3,000 times in less than two weeks. There were 20 pages of comments.

Both times I sought the help of law enforcement officials who shamed me, insulted me, and openly laughed at me. In Maryland, where I live, there were no laws in place that could have protected me. However, the man who posted the images lived in New Jersey where a law had been in place for several years. If the police were doing their jobs, he would have been brought up on felony charges.

The helplessness I suffered became all-consuming; I attempted suicide. I was ashamed, frightened, and convinced the only way to save myself was to kill myself.

I’ve since recovered from the trauma that ex-boyfriend inflicted on me and went on to assist over 2,000 victims of non-consensual pornography through my work with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. I testified in support of two bills, one in Maryland and one in Washington DC, that criminalized non-consensual pornography. Both bills were passed into law.

Throughout my ordeal, I, and the majority of the victims I assisted, heard the words, “If you hadn’t let him take the pictures, this never would have happened.”

While true, those words represent the rampant complacency that exists in crimes of a sexual nature. Those words send the message that legislators and law enforcement turn a blind eye towards the destructive behavior of posting intimate images without consent. They intimate that it is just too hard to implement consequences on those who publish nude images without consent thus driving their victims to suicide.

It’s time to stop being complacent. Join us, the advocates and attorneys who haven’t been afraid to do the difficult work that casts blame where it belongs – on the perpetrators of revenge porn.”

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