Ed Board: Disclosing, acquiring private photos should be sex crime

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 3

Millennials, and society at large, are consuming and molding electronic communication quicker every day, and the legal system isn’t keeping up.

From the widespread distribution of celebrity nude photos to Texas’ ruling against the banning of upskirt photos, the attainment and dissemination of private media can currently be charged as extortion, identity theft, wiretapping or even copyright infringement, but the law does not recognize these offenses as sex crimes.

Under national law, sex crimes involve the coercion of a person to engage in a sexual act by force or other means. At this point, U.S. code does not recognize acts like hacking computers or deceiving individuals in an attempt to acquire private media as a kind of coercion, even if these acts are sexual in nature and profoundly violate a victim’s body and sense of safety.

Courts and the legal system need to be more responsive to the way our interactions are changing, especially if the public’s perception ofvictims and cybercrime are at all influenced by the legal definitions of these topics.

In 2012, Christopher Chaney was sentenced to 10 years in prison for accessing private nude photos of celebrities. He was indicted on 26 counts of computer hacking, aggravated identity theft and illegal wiretapping. Yet, he isn’t registered in California’s sex-offender registry for violating the women’s privacy without their consent.

A similar situation unfolded in August: An unidentified hacker posted private nude photos of almost 500 celebrities to the imageboard 4chan. In the ensuing media frenzy, the conversation touched on the culpability of the women and men targeted and the Cloud service that facilitated the distribution of the images, among other topics.

Amid the aftermath of the leak, Vanity Fair published an article where actress Jennifer Lawrence denounced not only the culprit but anyone who distributed and viewed her private photos.

She expressed disgust over the profiteering of what is essentially sexual exploitation. The media minimized the issue by branding it a mere scandal. If identified and arrested, the culprit could face charges similar to Chaney’s. The culprit would not legally be considered a sex offender either.

But, this is not an important issue simply because it affects celebrities.

Our culture is more attune to life online, and our generation creates and shares a massive amount of information, words and images. As we continue to use technology and media platforms as a way to interact, we inevitably venture into more subjective territory when it comes to how we classify and understand our more intimate interactions.

Everyday-women and -men can also be the targets of malicious invasions of privacy and breaches of trust.

With revenge porn creeping its way further into the public eye, it’s important to scrutinize and clarify the legal gray areas where sexual cybercrimes reside.

Revenge porn involves the distribution of sexually explicit media of a person without his or her consent. Photos and videos are posted to sites that specialize in this type of intrusion.

But, because of the Communications Decency Act, law officials cannot prosecute the websites hosting the content.

Only 12 states currently have laws that apply to the criminalization of revenge porn, including Alaska, California, Colorado and Pennsylvania. Texas isn’t among these states.

One of the most prominent concerns of lawmakers is that criminalization will be too broad and could result in impositions of the First Amendment.

The key is consent.

Victims do not choose to have their private media disclosed to third parties, and such acts can have lasting psychological effects.

We have to be ready and willing to protect all people’s safety and security. No one deserves to be exposed and humiliated in this way for any reason, and these kinds of offenses must have adequate ramifications.

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