California Considers Revenge Porn Law - Technologist
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California Considers Revenge Porn Law

Anyone out there big fans of The Newsroom? Well, we are. In a recent episode one of the characters, Sloan Sabbith, consented to being photographed nude by her then-boyfriend, but out of revenge for breaking up with him, he published the nude photos of her online, without her consent. It's a dirty business, but it brought to light a very real problem -- revenge porn.

Well, states are starting to take action. New Jersey is the only state to enact a revenge porn law, reports CNN. Attempts in Florida failed, and now California is considering the same.

California Senate Bill No. 255

The proposed law, California Senate Bill No.255, already passed the Senate and is now before the California legislature, according to CNN. The law would amend an existing invasion of privacy law that makes it a misdemeanor to secretly record someone, without consent, in a bedroom, fitting room, or the like, where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The disorderly conduct is categorized as a misdemeanor, with a first offense carrying a six-month jail sentence and/or a $1,000 fine. A second offense (or first offense where the victim is a minor) would carry a one-year jail sentence and/or $2,000 fine.

The amendment would make it a misdemeanor for a person to distribute an image, "with the intent to cause serious emotional distress," where the person had originally obtained consent. This law is squarely aimed at protecting people who consent to nude photos when in a happy relationship that then turns sour. Prosecutors would not only have to prove "intent to cause serious emotional distress," but also that "the other person suffers serious emotional distress." The fine and jail sentence for this misdemeanor are the same as the ones listed above.

"Sexting" Not Covered

CNN reports that Eugene Volokh, law professor at UCLA stated: "This is a very precisely drafted and narrowly drafted bill." So narrow, that it does not cover "sexting." Senate Bill No.255 only covers instances where the person who distributes the photo is the person who took the photo. However, the situation where someone takes a nude photo of him or herself, and the recipient later publishes it without consent, is not covered by the proposed law.

This is problematic because, even with the use of a service like Snapchat, that allow a user to send a message that self-destructs, a person could take a screenshot of the image before it disappears. Not only that, the BBC reports that Snapchat "has admitted that deleted data could sometimes be recovered."

Opposition to the Law

Opponents to the bill bring up a few holes in the bill such as the problem of intent. Some critics say that a person could be motivated by something other than wanting to inflict emotional distress -- sometimes a person's intent is to make money. The ACLU also brings up First Amendment issues, reports CNN.

Likelihood of Passage

With the growing instances of revenge porn, especially in the public eye, California may well pass this bill into law. Whether it would survive legal attacks, as we are sure will follow, is unclear. What is clear is that this is just the beginning, and we are sure to see more states enacting revenge porn laws in the future.

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