A New Strategy for Prosecuting Revenge Porn

California's attorney general avoids the state's revenge-porn law in a new indictment

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California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at a news conference on May 17, 2013. On Dec. 10, she charge the operator of a revenge porn website with identity theft and extortion.

Lawmakers across the U.S. are talking about porn. In particular, they’re considering whether to outlaw revenge porn, shorthand for sexually explicit images that someone posts without the consent of the subject — like when a bitter ex posts what were thought to be private pictures on the Web to get back at a former lover. As legislators debate ways to crack down on the practice, California’s attorney general on Tuesday tried a less direct tack, charging a 27-year-old man with identity theft and extortion for allegedly running a revenge-porn website.

“This website published intimate photos of unsuspecting victims,” Kamala Harris, the attorney general, said in a statement, “and turned their public humiliation and betrayal into a commodity with the potential to devastate lives.”

A San Diego man named Kevin Christopher Bollaert allegedly ran a now defunct site called ugotposted.com, which featured more than 10,000 explicit photos posted without permission of the subjects. The site was set up not just to house pictures but also information about the subjects; according to a press release from Harris’ office, each photo was accompanied by a link to a Facebook profile. Court documents also allege that Bollaert ran a separate site called changeyourreputation.com, also since taken down, which offered to get such photos scrubbed from the Web for about $300. It’s not uncommon to find “reputation-protection services” offered alongside such humiliating galleries. For that, the state is charging him with extortion.

The mostly female victims of the postings say they were hounded by messages and phone calls after the photos went up from people who used the corresponding Facebook profiles to find contact information. One Jane Doe cited in court documents wrote an e-mail to the site administrator saying that after the photos were posted, she was “scared for my life! People are calling my work place and they obtained the information from this site! … I have contacted the police but these pictures need to come down! Please!” The photos were not removed.

Such details will likely be key to making the charges stick. In California, identity theft is defined as taking someone’s personal information with the intent to do something unlawful with it. In this case, Harris is arguing that Bollaert’s unlawful intention was harassment — as evinced by all the identifying information the website required. This legal tack raises questions about whether identity theft can be a passive offense against a general population, rather than a tailored act focusing on an individual.

Harris’ roundabout approach may become ammunition for advocates who want more and stronger laws against revenge porn. While California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill in October that allows people who post revenge porn online to face jail time, the law says nothing about website operators, who generally aren’t liable for content that other people put on their sites.

Along with New Jersey, California is one of just two states with revenge-porn laws on the books. Lawmakers in Florida, Maryland, Wisconsin and New York have been considering whether to make it illegal to post sexually explicit photos on the Web without a person’s permission. While the issue may sound like a no-brainer, it can quickly become a complicated argument about copyright, free speech and privacy.

A spokesman for Harris says this case is a simple one about landing “a big fish, not all the little fish” when it comes to revenge porn.

4 comments
tailhunter10
tailhunter10

As usual somebody always has to take things to the next level, over the top, then the wrath of legislation comes down upon all of us.  It wasnt enough to simply post picts of ex-G friends, he had to provide names, numbers, Facebook links, etc.  Way to go pal.  

          This new law will become yet another abused weapon for woman,  just like date rape and SX harassment.  So many innocents will get wrongly accused.

    If you don't want your private picture put online then don't take the picture in the first place. That has been common knowledge for 15 years, when are people going to understand this? Never, now there is a law to help them be irresponsible... 

GaryNelsonHarper
GaryNelsonHarper

The majority of the viewers were likely, "guys  wishing they could put their ex onto that site".

 If nothing else, the site broke the law by using a person's likeness without a model release signature. Most judges would award damages based upon that alone.

Having been a victim of one of the world's worst liars myself, I can easily see why men would want to humiliate their spouse or ex. It's best not to end up behind bars. There are ways to "get revenge", but I won't post them here.

There must be a large following of people who like the idea of this sort of web site. Whether it is "true" revenge, or sexual fetish is anyone's guess. I predict a rise in phony "revenge" porn sites where false names and offenses are posted with the usual, often offensive material some men find entertaining. Attention Advertisers! You too can reach this demographic.

yellow2
yellow2

You people put yourselves on Facebook and the likes. Deal with it.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

So it's okay to put YOUR personal information, including your address, e-mail address and phone number on a porn site, even if you don't bother with Facebook?  Because that's what this guy did.

I'm thinking you leaped to an erroneous conclusion.  These pictures were never posted on Facebook.  They were never intended to be made public.  They were private pictures, usually (but not always) obtained with consent, but with the understanding that they would remain private.  When they're put out there (and once it's out there, even if they take the site down, they'll continue to circulate), it's done by the person who posted the pictures strictly for the purposes of getting "revenge" on the person IN the pictures.

What's your reading comprehension level?  0?


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