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Revenge Porn: One Win (Texas), One Fail (New York)

According to documents from Edward Snowden, more than 7% of Yahoo chat users send intimate photos taken via webcam
According to documents from Edward Snowden, more than 7% of Yahoo chat users send intimate photos taken via webcam

Revenge porn is exactly what it says – the practice of aggrieved partners (the dumped one) uploading intimate photos exchanged while the couple were still in a relationship purely for revenge over being dumped. The perpetrators are usually male, and the victims are usually female. Solving what is clearly a heinous act has not been easy, since many have felt the process to be legal and protected by the US constitution as a form of free expression.

Nevertheless, the authorities in general take a dim view of the practice, and have sought ways to stamp it out – but not always successfully. One case was thrown out by a New York judge last week. With no specific revenge porn law on the statute books, Ian Barber, of Brooklyn, was charged with aggravated harassment, dissemination of unlawful surveillance and public display of offensive sexual material. He had been accused of posting nude photographs of his ex-girlfriend on Twitter, and sending them to her employer and sister.

“The Court concludes that defendant's conduct, while reprehensible, does not violate any of the criminal statutes under which he is charged,” Criminal Court Judge Steven Statsinger wrote in a decision published Wednesday, reported by the NY Daily News. "Harassment entails sending communications to the victim, which Barber didn't do; unlawful surveillance requires that the images be obtained illegally, which wasn't alleged; and nudity alone does not equal offensive sexual material," explains the newspaper.

Only New Jersey and California have specific revenge porn legislation. Nevertheless, a more satisfactory result has been achieved in Texas. "In a court decision that could prompt a change in state law, a US woman in Houston, in the state of Texas, has been awarded $500,000 (£366,000) in a revenge-porn lawsuit she brought against her ex-boyfriend for plastering nude photos on the internet without her permission," reports Lisa Vaas in Naked Security.

In this case, the ex-boyfriend posted nude photos and secretly recorded video and chat sessions. The videos ended up on YouTube, and the boyfriend taunted 'Rosie' (the pseudonym given to the woman) with a running commentary on the volume of downloads. "It's humiliating. It's devastating," said Rosie.

But like New York, Texas has no revenge porn laws; and the police were unable to help. In the absence of a criminal prosecution, Rosie took the case to civil court; and was awarded $500,000 by the judge. So far, it is a major win for the victim; but the ex plans to appeal, and has a First Amendment defense. "Two state lawmakers are working on a bill that would make revenge porn illegal in Texas," reports ABC, "but critics say criminalizing it may violate the First Amendment right to freedom of speech."

"If you allow the state or federal government to restrict your speech in one instance, it could expand and get more restrictive over other matters and nobody wants that," said KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy.

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