The California Revenge Porn Law is a Step in the Right Direction Toward a Means of Internet Regulation, but How Well Can it be Enforced in that Realm?
Posted By: Paul Isso
Today the most common ways of distributing photos are by posting them online or sharing them through text messages. With the number of social networking sites and innumerable number of users today, it makes you wonder how state and federal governments can feasibly regulate content that is posted to the Internet. Well, California seems to be trying to do something to answer that question. Actually, they’ve already done something.
According to the October 3rd DecodedScience.com article California Enacts Senate Bill 255: Distributing Photos After Breakup Now Illegal, on October 1st, 2013, Senate bill 255 was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown (Source: http://www.decodedscience.com/california-enacts-new-law-revenge-porn/37652). Essentially, this new law criminalizes the distribution of a nude or partially nude photo of another without their consent with the intent to cause emotional distress, with that resulting (Source: http://www.decodedscience.com/california-enacts-new-law-revenge-porn/37652).
Section 4(A) of this new legislation – legislation that is being referred to by many as the California “revenge porn” law – in relevant part, states the following:
“Any person who photographs or records by any means the image of another identifiable person with his or her consent who is in a state of full or partial undress in any area in which the person being photographed or recorded has a reasonable expectation of privacy, and subsequently distributes the image taken, with the intent to cause serious emotional distress, and the other person suffers serious emotional distress.” (SB255, from source: http://www.decodedscience.com/california-enacts-new-law-revenge-porn/37652)
A very interesting thing about this new law is that the relevant portion above is obviously not one of the more descriptive provisions out there. Having said that, this could be a tool for the courts so that they could construe the statute how they see fit case by case, and so the court can be flexible in close-call situations.
It is well settled that regulating the internet has proven to be incredibly difficult. With the innumerable amount of users, programs, its open-source format and the ever-changing and advancing world of cyberspace, means of internet regulation have proven difficult to come by.
This new law appears to be a step in the right direction in terms of regulating users who post offensive images of others on the Internet through social networking sites like Facebook, twitter, YouTube and many others. This legislation automatically imposes a punishment on a user who violates it. According to the aforementioned October 3rd DecodedScience.com article, “the crime is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.” (Source: http://www.decodedscience.com/california-enacts-new-law-revenge-porn/37652).
While this new piece of legislation aims to better regulate what users post online, there are a number of issues it needs to face and questions that need to be answered before it can be deemed proven and efficient. Some of these questions include the following:
-What if, for instance, someone else secretly logs into another user’s Facebook or twitter account and violates this law?
-Or what if through some unidentifiable account a user on one of the aforementioned social networking sites violates this law?
-What if the person is a resident of California but was outside the state when the posting of the unlawful image took place?
-Or vice versa – if someone unfamiliar with California’s laws, whose presence in California isn’t significant enough to haul them into court by way of minimum contacts, violates the law while in California? What then?
The simple answer to most of these questions is “it depends.” As with most law-related questions, there usually isn’t a simple yes or no answer. Of course, time will tell how effective this new legislation as a means of Internet regulation proves to be. Questions like those above, as well as other issues, will likely continue to arise until they have been answered.
In conclusion, it seems that California’s recently enacted revenge porn law is a step in the right direction towards regulating offensive internet content posted online by a user of and concerning another. While this is a step towards means of internet regulation, it remains to be seen how effectively this new piece of legislation can be enforced and how well it will do what it is intended to do in the realm of cyberspace – deter the distribution/posting of such offensive images of others to the Internet. It also remains to be seen whether other states from here on out will consider enacting legislation similar to California’s, and/or whether a similar type of federal law will someday be enacted in terms of Internet regulation.