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Tough new laws to tackle 'revenge porn' may be on the way

The offences would carry prison terms of up to seven years
The offences would carry prison terms of up to seven years

Tough new digital safety laws to tackle revenge porn and cyber stalking are being prepared by the Government.

Intentional victim shaming, more commonly known as revenge porn, is where a person uploads intimate images of another person online without their consent.

The practice, which has tended to occur following the break-up of a relationship, is an offence in England, Wales and the US, but it is not specifically classified as a crime in Ireland.

Under proposals being examined by Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, the offences would carry prison terms of up to seven years.

The appointment of a commissioner who could take web and social media sites to court if they fail to take down harmful material is also on the cards, following a report being published today by the State's law reform body.

The Law Reform Commission began examining "negative aspects" of the digital revolution last year.

It found that while existing legislation addressed some harmful communication, there were some "gaps" in the law.

The report recommends:

  • Two new criminal offences to deal with posting intimate images online without consent.
  • One offence deals with revenge porn, and another with the voyeuristic practice of secretly obtained intimate images known as "up-skirting" or "down-blousing".
  • Reforms to the existing offence of harassment, to include online activity such as fake social media profiles.
  • Making cyber stalking an offence, similar to aggravated harassment.
  • Reform of existing offences for sending threatening and intimidating messages, so they capture online intimidation.
  • Allowing courts to issue restraining orders restricting an alleged perpetrator from communicating with a complainant, even if a prosecution has yet begun.

The report found that many forms of harassment are dealt with under Section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.

However, it noted there were examples where harmful digital communications may not be covered by the existing legislation.

This included the setting up of a website or fake profile page to post harmful or private content in the victim's name.

This happened in a case in the UK, where a man was convicted of harassment after setting up a website called "[name of complainant] is gay.com".

He also registered the complainant on a database for people with sexually transmitted diseases.

But the commission said this sort of offence may not come under section 10 of the Act.

It also cited the example of the posting of intimate images or videos online without consent.

This happened in the case of Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence and others after their iCloud accounts were hacked in 2014.

"This clearly involved hacking but might not come within section 10 of the 1997 Act," the report said. Under the proposals, the revenge porn, harassment and cyber stalking laws would carry an unlimited fine and/or a jail term of up to seven years in cases tried on indictment in the Circuit Court.

Less serious forms of those offences, tried in the District Court, would carry a maximum fine of €5,000 and/or up to 12 months in prison.

The report recommended that "up-skirting" offences should carry a maximum fine of €5,000 and/or up to six months in jail.

However, it said prosecutions of minors for the new offences should only be a last resort would have to have the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Educational and diversion programmes should be tried first.

New watchdog urged to police social media

The Government is being urged by the Law Reform Commission to appoint a Digital Safety Commissioner with powers to force social media sites to remove harmful posts.

Under its proposals, the commissioner would promote digital and online safety. They would also publish a statutory code of practice on digital safety, replacing current non-statutory take-down procedures developed by the online and digital sector.

Under the system suggested, a person who believes they have been targeted by harmful material online would initially apply directly to the website or social media site.

If the site refuses to take down the content, in breach of the new code, an appeal could be made to the commissioner.

Should the commissioner find in favour of the user, and the site operators refuse to comply with a direction to take down the material, the commissioner could apply to the Circuit Court for an order requiring compliance.