End of the affair

California has passed a law to combat revenge porn on the internet

Published: October 6, 2013 11:59:51 pm

Particularly vindictive exes have apparently been posting compromising pictures of their former partners on the internet in order to publicly shame the person,in a practice dubbed “revenge porn”. Such acts of cyber-revenge are so prevalent that several extortionist websites,such as the now-defunct IsAnybodyDown,which posted nude pictures of people with identifying information and without their knowledge or consent,have sprung up. The only way to get the photos taken down is by making a payment. Last week,California became the first US state to pass a law to prevent revenge porn from appearing online. Those convicted of illegally distributing private images with the intent to harass or annoy will now face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. However,a person can only be charged if they themselves took the photos of the victim.

In the past,revenge porn sites have used Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act as a shield,arguing that they could not be held liable for invasive material posted by users,and certain civil liberties advocates have argued that California’s law violates First Amendment protections for free speech. Such cases point to the tension between a person’s right to privacy and the right to free speech in the internet age,particularly in a country like the US. In India,though,such a law would probably be unnecessary.

Even though India lacks a dedicated privacy law,obscenity on the internet is regulated under section 67 of the IT Act. As “obscenity” is not defined in the statute books,its definition is subject to individual discretion. Also,under the act,any person publishing or transmitting “obscene” materials is liable,making the law a blunt instrument. Of course,a person whose dignity is violated by someone they once trusted should have legal recourse. But a California-style revenge porn legislation is superfluous in the Indian context.

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