Congress Moves Toward Passing Law to Punish Dirt Bags Distributing Revenge Porn

After more than two years, a law that criminalizes distributing non-consensual pornography makes it to Congress today, but critics say it could threaten free speech.

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Jul 14 2016, 7:30pm

Jennifer Lawrence was one of the celebrities involved in the 2014 nude photo hack. Screengrab via YouTube

A new bill that would criminalize the distribution of non-consensual porn is being introduced in Congress today, but the legislation is being received with mixed reactions.

Called the Intimate Privacy Protection Act (IPPA), the bill is being introduced to Congress by Rep. Jackie Speier and is co-sponsored by Representatives Katherine Clark and Gregory Meeks and Republican Congressmen Ryan Costello and Tom Rooney, making the bill a bipartisan effort.

The bill has been in the works for over two years, and though 2015 reports speculated that it would be introduced last summer, the bill was delayed as lawmakers worked to finalize its language. As it stands now, the bill would make the distribution of non-consensual pornography a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison, for individuals as well as websites.

Watch: Inside the Torturous Fight to End Revenge Porn

Some are worried that the bill may threaten free speech. Michael Macleod-Ball, the chief of staff of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, tells Broadly that the bill's broad language could make many people who most would agree shouldn't be in jail subject to prosecution .

"This bill could be made better, narrower, so that it would have better chance of passing constitutional muster," Macleod-Ball said. "A bill that gets thrown out won't do anyone any good—a bill that stands up in court will better protect victims." He says the current version of the bill could affect "people who are circulating family baby photos, people who are circulating photos for art exhibits that depict nudity of sexual activity, as well as journalists, historians, and academics working with historically significant imagery."

The ACLU thinks that adding language requiring prosecutors to prove malicious intent is an "obvious fix."

"Of the 30-odd states that have this kind of legislation, two thirds have included the malicious intent standard," he says.

In 2014, the ACLU filed a lawsuit, alongside a coalition of bookstores, newspapers, photographers, publishers, and librarians, that challenged similar legislation in the state of Arizona. The bill was redrafted to include language that specified prosecutors have to prove that non-consensual images circulated with malicious intent and include identifiable persons. For Rep. Speier's federal bill, the ACLU believes a similar malicious intent standard needs to be added.

The ACLU hopes that changes are made to the federal bill before it moves forward to ensure free speech is protected, Macleod-Ball says, and that as a result it will have a chance to survive in court. "If your concern is protecting victims, I don't understand why you wouldn't do that."

But not everyone supports requiring proof of malicious intent. Elisa D'Amico, founder of the K&L Gates Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, which help victims of nonconsensual pornography with pro bono legal services, disagrees with the ACLU's assessment. She tells Broadly she thinks the bill is appropriately narrow.

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"Including a 'malicious intent' provision would leave out so many of the victims we are trying to help here, such that few of their situations would constitute crimes," she says. "For example: A fraternity uploads photographs of nude, unconscious women to its members-only social media page for 'entertainment only' purposes, or countless anonymous third-party individuals upload and redistribute stolen nude celebrity photographs without any intent to harm, but for the purpose of elevating their online social status through a 'win' or receiving Bitcoin."

D'Amico doesn't think there will be the kinds of problems the ACLU anticipates. "It's narrow enough but also has enough room to cover people it needs to cover. And like all laws, it's dynamic in the sense that if it's enacted and we find there are things that need to be improved so it can do better the job it's intended to do, changes can be made."

Ultimately, she sees the bill as "beautiful and necessary."