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“Revenge Porn” bill, awaits governor's approval

NEW CITY – Legislation which recently passed both the State Assembly and Senate might soon update current Internet privacy laws to protect victims of “revenge porn” whose explicit photos are posted online without their consent.

The legislation, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Phil Boyle (R-C-I, Suffolk County), was endorsed at Tuesday by Senator David Carlucci (D, Clarkstown), who was joined by Clarkstown Police and domestic violence prevention advocates who have had firsthand experience with victims of such privacy intrusions.

Current privacy laws protect individuals only if recorded images or video show intimate parts of their bodies. Hence, images might not meet criteria for prosecution, even if they are posted for the purpose of humiliation and are sexually explicit in nature.

Under the new legislation, existing surveillance law would be updated to make non-consensual broadcast of individuals engaged in sexual contact a felony, even if no intimate body parts are shown.

“What we have to do is to bring these laws into the 21st century and close that loophole, to make sure that there's a deterrent,” Carlucci said.

According to Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, the closing of this loophole is one of several much-needed updates to outdated anti-surveillance regulations, further bringing criminal law into the digital age.

 “We're trying to use laws that were created in the dark ages to apply to crimes that are committed using our latest technology, and it's very challenging,” Zugibe said.  “Whether you are dealing with computer crimes or cell phones, with issues pertaining to cell towers, or dealing now with the latest issues pertaining to drones, our laws were never created to deal with those situations.”

Such cases are not unknown in Rockland. Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan confirmed Clarkstown police were confronted with at least three separate cases which they were legally unable to pursue due to the existing loophole.

In one case, a woman was not able to press charges because images released of her engaged in sexual conduct with an ex-boyfriend did not meet the current standard.

According to Center for Safety & Change Deputy Executive Director of Programs and Clinical Services Kiera Pollock, her office handles such cases on a regular basis, often in the context of an abusive relationship where such images are used to blackmail a partner.

“I would say on a weekly basis I hear stories of intimate partner violence and sexual assault about the ways that [victims'] abusers have threatened them around the Internet with the exposure of photographs or videos and the ways that they are using that to try to coerce them into staying in relationships or change custody agreements or all different kinds of things,” Pollock explained.

The legislation now awaits the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo.