Annmarie Chiarini, whose ex-boyfriend posted private nude photos of her online, has emerged as a leading voice in the movement to pass legislation that criminalizes “revenge porn.”
And states from Arizona to New York are racing to make it a crime.
It’s a development that has heartened privacy advocates, but alarmed free speech watchdogs who see constitutional peril in many bills being considered.
“This is a delicate issue,” says Lee Rowland of the American Civil Liberties Union, who says the legislation is “spreading like wildfire.” “The ACLU is concerned both with the protection of privacy and free speech rights.”
“But the reality is that revenge porn laws tend to criminalize the sharing of nude images that people lawfully own,” says Rowland, a lawyer with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “That treads on very thin ice constitutionally.”
The compelling constitutional questions, however, have not slowed the state-level efforts to criminalize the distribution and posting of explicit photos or videos without the consent of the subject.
Just two states, California and New Jersey, have actually passed so-called revenge porn laws. But more than a dozen states have similar bills in the pipeline, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Many states, according to NCSL data, already have laws on the books that prohibit “taking nude or sexually explicit photographs of a person without a person’s knowledge or consent.” The issue of malicious online posting or distribution of such photos or videos, however, including “selfies” and other material that may have been initially shared with full consent, had not been widely addressed.
The panoply of revenge porn bills that have been introduced range from those that would make such posts a misdemeanor that carries a fine, to those that would make it a felony. Some legislation also targets with civil penalties websites that post the images, including those that attempt to extract payment from the subjects to take down the offending photos or videos.
Victim arguments for such bills are as emotional as they are compelling. Annmarie Chiarini, an English professor, has become a leading advocate for legislation, telling her story publicly in an effort to get legislation passed in Maryland.
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Race To Stop 'Revenge Porn' Raises Free Speech Worries