Julian Huppert calls for action to tackle revenge porn

Julian Huppert MPA few weeks ago, I wrote about how my friend had been traumatised after her former partner published explicit images of her online without her consent. There was nothing that she could do to stop him. “Revenge porn” as it is known is becoming a bigger problem and is essentially a modern, legal form of abuse.

How would you feel if it happened to you? I suspect you would very quickly learn the meaning of the phrase “spine-chilling” as you saw your personal details shared online, if your mutual friends were tagged in intimate images which they were never meant to see. You know that anyone searching on your name could stumble across them. And imagine the anxiety of not knowing exactly where on that massive expanse of cyberspace they are going to appear next. You just know that they will.

Last week I heard rumours that Liberal Democrats in Parliament were going to try to amend the forthcoming  crime bill to outlaw this dreadful practice. Yesterday, Julian Huppert raised the issue in the Commons debate on the Queen’s Speech. He said:

I was approached by someone about the issue of revenge porn, which is happening more and more often. People take naked or indecent images of partners and then, once the relationship ends, they share them online, publishing them very widely—to the great mental torment of the people concerned. It is mostly but not always women who have agreed to have an explicit photo taken, but never agreed for it to be broadcast to all and sundry on the web as a means of revenge. It destroys people’s lives because of the psychological effect, the shame and the great humiliation caused when these images can be seen by anyone. The problem is getting worse, as Women’s Aid, the National Stalking Helpline, UK Safer Internet Centre and everybody increasingly accept.

Talking recently to a constituent of the hon. Member for Guildford, I was shocked to discover that there is currently no sanction to deal with this problem. At the moment it is not a criminal offence to share the image because the photo was taken legitimately. Consent was given for the photo or the film, but not for it to be shared. Typically, the problem is not covered under the harassment legislation, which requires something to have happened more than once, but once the image has been published online, it is broadcast for ever more. Reputable websites will take down these images when asked, but the person involved has to ask each website to do so, and for that to happen they normally have to prove that it is them in the photo, which means going through the rather humiliating process of taking a photo of oneself with a sign and sending it off. That makes the whole process much worse.

I do not often call for new criminal sanctions—it is not my natural style. In this case, however, I think we need to make a criminal sanction available when people share indecent images in the knowledge that consent would not have been given. I hope that the House will look further at this. It will need careful work to get the details right, ensuring that we do not accidentally criminalise activities that should be allowed, but we do need to take action in this area.

When we last discussed the issue on here, the point was made that the law in this area is very complex and any legislation could have unintended consequences. It certainly inspires me with confidence that someone with Julian Huppert’s civil liberties background is on the case. It must be possible to find a solution that stops people, mostly women, being put through this nightmare.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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11 Comments

  • Martha Jane 11th Jun '14 - 8:33pm

    Is it too simplistic to suggest that it become a legal requirement for the subject of any photo or film which features nudity or sexually explicit content sign a release before the photographer is able to publish it? Then these people could be prosecuted for distributing these kinds of images without the consent of their former partners and people who distribute them legitimately would have the piece of paper to prove it.

  • @Martha – not practical for nudity, since this would effectively criminalise ordinary pictures of beaches, Amazonian tribes, etc. However, sexually explicit content might be possible…the difficulty is getting this to apply to internet hosting outside the UK.

  • I would most like to understand how this position sits against the undermining of individuals basic intellectual property rights in other contexts.

  • Charles Rothwell 12th Jun '14 - 7:18am

    Too complex for someone without legal training like me but I certainly welcome the issue being raised and the Party bringing it to people’s attention. This is precisely the kind of issue involving the potential conflict between individual liberties and respect for others (including ex-partners) where the Party needs to reestablish its leadership and reaffirm its links to its antecedents.

  • Huppert has called time and time again for reducing copyright enforcement as regards the internet, especially during DEA 2010, the protections an individual would require to tackle this issue are precisely what he’s been opposing for years. The very next post down on LDV is “Opinion: Don’t Spy On Us — a Lib Dem call to action”, which is all about stopping the surveillance state…which is, of course, the only available practical framework to stop the sort of thing Caron’s against here! Huppert fights against any state teeth for the internet, but now wants us to be able to control peoples personal IP? This article reveals the lack of joined-up thinking on this issue.

  • @Henry, @ChrisB: This has got nothing whatsoever to do with intellectual property rights. The intellectual property (copyright) in a photo subsists with the person who took it. So Julian’s position on revenge porn is entirely consistent with “undermining intellectual property rights”: he is saying that right to privacy trumps those rights.

  • @Alex Macfie

    Yes it does, when then subject hasn’t signed a release those images fall under DPA 98. There have been many successful cases that worked that way, what’s wrong with that method now?

  • Alex Macfie 13th Jun '14 - 2:36pm

    No, That is not intellectual property rights. Data protection ≠ intellectual property (and they may conflict with each other)

  • @ MBoy

    “@Martha – not practical for nudity, since this would effectively criminalise ordinary pictures of beaches, Amazonian tribes, etc. However, sexually explicit content might be possible…the difficulty is getting this to apply to internet hosting outside the UK.”

    I think the situation is over simplified but it would not be hard to say photos taken in a public place are exempt but taken in private have a greater level of legal protection. It would still leave open issues when explicit photos are taken in a public place but it would go a long way to helping.

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