California bills would criminalize revenge porn

Laws are enacted to deal with existing problems, but technology changes so rapidly that legal issues pile up faster than laws change. An Internet law that was effective a few years ago is obsolete due to the blinding pace of innovation and, on the flip side, tech abusers.

California lawmakers are playing catch up now to deal with a particularly ugly form of Internet defamation. “Revenge porn” occurs when a former significant other or spouse posts overly-intimate pictures of an ex online. Images of private ancient history are revealed to the cyber community with the intent to hurt.

Internet defamation is a delicate legal area. State legislation that would punish revenge porn offenders must balance the rights of privacy and free expression. Many California residents believe all Internet users should realize that nothing posted online is private. Critics ask “Why not?”

One bill would impose a $1,000 fine and a jail term up to six months on cyber revenge seekers. The victim would have to prove the defendant meant to cause emotional harm by posting a nude image without permission. Proponents say a criminal law would be a better deterrent and faster, less-costly solution than seeking damages through a civil court.

The governor is considering a second, narrowly-focused bill that would prohibit the online impersonation of a domestic violence victim. Judges would have the power to approve protective orders that ideally would prevent the theft of an abuse victim’s Internet identity.

Social networking was in its infancy – or at least toddlerhood – in 2006 when California passed an anti-Internet bullying law. The social media surge took bullying to new levels, from mean student pranks to retaliation for broken adult relationships.

It may take time before state lawmakers strike the right balance between privacy and punishment. In the meantime, the only course available for Californians to fight revenge porn is through a civil claim.

Source: dailynews.com, “California lawmakers seek solution to growing problem of Internet ‘revenge porn’” Don Thompson, Aug. 25, 2013

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