Revenge porn will be explicitly outlawed in the UK

The U.K. government is set to make so-called “revenge porn” – the public sharing of someone’s private sexual images without consent, in the hope of upsetting them – explicitly illegal.

Such activity is already arguably an offense under at least two U.K. laws, but the government is now planning to add an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill (which is wending its way through the parliamentary approval process) to specifically target revenge porn. The amendment will cover the posting of revenge porn on social networks and other websites, and its sharing via text message, email or physical distribution.

The maximum sentence under the new law will be two years (the same as for severe online trolling), though a sentence of up to 14 years can already await someone convicted of a sexual offense under current legislation.

“The fact that there are individuals who are cruelly distributing intimate pictures of their former partners without their consent is almost beyond belief,” Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said in a statement. “We want those who fall victim to this type of disgusting behavior to know that we are on their side and will do everything we can to bring offenders to justice.”

The wording of the amendment is yet to be revealed, but here are the two parts of existing legislation that already cover such things (and a lot more, too):

  • “[It is an offense to send] by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.” (Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003)
  • “[It is an offense to send] a message which is indecent or grossly offensive; a threat; or information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender; if his purpose is that it should cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated.” (Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988)

I asked the Ministry of Justice why a new law was needed, and a spokesman said this was so law enforcement “don’t need to go through different acts” when tackling such cases.

As the House of Lords recently noted, the Court of Justice of the European Union’s recent “right to be de-linked ruling could provide some after-the-fact help to victims of revenge porn, if the website administrators don’t prove helpful. Victims can also apply for a privacy injunction at the High Court, though that’s expensive and time-consuming — having a straightforward law is obviously a more useful option.

Over in the U.S., crackdowns on revenge porn have proved more difficult due to free speech laws, leading some to rather problematically suggest copyright as a solution to the problem.