Florida pushes bill to criminalize 'revenge porn'

Florida is one of the first states in the country to propose legislation that would make it illegal to post nude pictures of someone online and tag them without written consent.

Florida is fighting back against revenge porn by pushing to make it a felony.

A bill targeting revenge porn — the act of posting sexually explicit photos or videos of a former lover online — has cleared a Florida House subcommittee and could be on its way to becoming law.

Revenge porn websites have been around for almost a decade, with little or no reaction from the law because they fall inside a legal gray area.

Websites like IsAnybodyDown.com let users submit nude photos of other people anonymously along with their name, city of residence and social networking information. Some websites even charge money to those whose pictures get posted in exchange for taking down their photos and personal information.

But revenge porn victims and concerned lawmakers such as Florida Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, want the government to start cracking down on the practice and are slowly drawing national attention toward its harmful effects.

Revenge porn: Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, is the author of anti-revenge-porn bill HB787. IMAGECourtesy: MyFloridaHouse.gov

Goodson authored House Bill 787, titled "Computer or Electronic Device Harassment," which makes it illegal to post nude pictures of someone online and tag them with personal identifying information without their written consent.

"You can post all the nude pictures you want — but the moment you tag the picture, you are breaking the law" if the bill passes, Goodson said. He became aware of the severity of revenge porn incidents in his state through the Brevard County sheriff, he said.

"He was noticing people posting really explicit pictures of people under 18 or even divorced on websites and tagging them," Goodson said. "I am 62 and I have never experienced this, but it's a whole new era. You would never do something like this as a joke — you would do it over malice or to hurt someone."

University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks said it was "a very good sign" that legislators were working toward criminalizing revenge porn, but the proposed bill was too broad in some aspects and too narrow in others.

"It's criminalizing the creation of an image that depicts nudity, but it doesn't define nudity," Franks said. "It needs to make clear what it means by nudity and that nudity isn't the only thing we care about. So it is unclear whether it refers to genitalia, buttocks, breasts, etc. or all of the above. That vagueness might mean that a mother who uploads a photo of her baby in the bath to Facebook could face criminal prosecution."

The bill also should include protection for people even when they aren't tagged, Franks added.

Some victims of revenge porn who belong to a group called End Revenge Porn joined a class action lawsuit against Texxan.com and its host GoDaddy in January, claiming invasion of privacy and charging that the sites are "designed to cause humiliation and emotional distress."

"I am doing everything I can to make sure that the bill goes through, especially since Florida is my home state," said End Revenge Porn founder "Sarah," who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was afraid of retaliation.

Sarah has been a victim of revenge porn since 2009. At one point her ex-boyfriend posted her pictures on more than 200 websites when he found out that she was dating someone new.

"These included revenge porn sites, porn sites and torrent sites," she said. "I went to the police and the FBI and they told me that technically what he was doing wasn't illegal because I was over 18 when the pictures were taken and they were his property, so he could do what he wanted with them. I decided that since law enforcement was turning me away on the grounds that 'what he's doing is legal,' then the laws needed to change. That's why I started the site and the petition."

Sarah said that the postings forced her to change jobs, change email addresses, shut down all her social networking accounts and legally change her name.

"We all make bad choices in life, but it doesn't mean we'll have to suffer for them," Rep. Goodson said, recounting another incident where a University of Florida student discovered explicit photos of herself while searching for her name online following a breakup.

If passed, Goodson's bill would punish violators by subjecting them to a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, five years of probation and a $5,000 fine. The bill also targets offenders who don't live in Florida but post content of residents living in the state.

"It may run into issues with the First Amendment, but I'm hoping it passes," Goodson said. "If not, we'll be back to fight next year."

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