I am quite often frustrated by the actions of governments, but sometimes they actually get it right and make wise decisions and introduce common-sense legislation. I jump for joy and am truly encouraged at such times and one of those moments occurred at the Legislature in late October. That is when provincial legislation was tabled in hopes of helping people who have had intimate images of themselves posted on the Internet without their consent.
If passed, the legislation will make it easier – much easier – for a victim to take legal action against any individual who posts an intimate photo of them online. A person will not have to hire a lawyer in order to launch a suit since the matter can be dealt with in small claims court. Victims will be able to receive compensation up to $30,000. Furthermore, the presiding judge can issue an order to have images of the victim removed from the Internet.
Should a victim feel $30,000 is insufficient compensation, a lawyer can be hired and a suit filed in Court of Queens Bench.
It is definitely time such action was taken. In fact, if a person reflects back on the large number of people – often young girls – who have been hurt (sometimes seriously damaged) by inappropriate postings on the Internet, it is apparent the proposed legislation is long overdue.
Now for the good part of the law that will undoubtedly serve victims well: the new legislation will require the person who posts a sensitive image to prove they had consent before putting it on-line. This simplistic rationale is not only wise, it’s brilliant. It’s beauty is in its simplicity which does not require a legal team to determine if consent was provided, but we all know there will be some legal battles over that point which will likely go all the way to the Supreme Court.
For the purpose of the law, an intimate image is defined as a visual image that shows a person partially nude, fully nude or in a sexual activity in which there is an implied expectation of privacy.
Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan said the proposed legislation is designed to be a deterrent and will provide victims with tools to get intimate images removed from the Internet. He advised people to not post questionable material unless they have the consent of the subject of the posting.
However, having an image removed from the Internet may be far more arduous than having a judge issue an order to that effect. The Internet is a huge web involving foreign countries and various rules that may permit illegal or dishonest activity, so permanently removing an image from circulation may prove difficult.
According to the Leader-Post, there has already been a case in Ontario in which a civil lawsuit was brought against an individual who shared an intimate video on-line. Although Ontario does not have a law like the one being proposed in Saskatchewan, the victim received more than $140,000 in compensation.
Let’s assume that many of the private images that show up on Internet sites were originally made by consenting individuals. When difficulties or hard feelings develop in their relationship, one of the parties uploads an illicit image. The act is not consensual and is therefore deemed to be vengeful. Such acts have led to creation of the term revenge porn which sadly is now part of our vocabulary.
Facebook is apparently being proactive when it comes to revenge porn on its site. The social media company is piloting a special project in Australia designed to stop nude photos from being posted online. The catch is the photo must first be uploaded to Facebook in order to ensure it never shows up on the Internet. The system will also be tested in Canada, U.S.A. and Britain.
It sounds bizarre, but a Facebook spokesperson says their image-matching system is legitimate and effective. Furthermore, any image that is uploaded to prevent its public circulation will be destroyed after a digital footprint of it is made that will thwart all future attempts to upload that image.
However, I am not so easily convinced and many other people are understandably concerned that images will not be destroyed as Facebook maintains. It is a fact that information can remain in a digital archive system long after it has apparently been deleted, so glitches in employee ethics could result in private photos being made public. In essence, a company that is trying to protect people’s privacy could possibly be used by unscrupulous employees to obtain and share thousands of intimate and private images.
According to a 2016 study, four per cent of Internet users have been victimized by revenge porn. Furthermore, 10 per cent of women under 30 years of age have had someone threaten to put explicit photos of them on the web.
Every good development such as computers and the Internet can be used for equally bad and counterproductive purposes. It’s not the technology that is bad, it is man’s twisted thinking and the corresponding evil use of technology that is abhorrent.
The safest and best course of action is to never – never for any reason – allow oneself to be photographed in an intimate, illicit or compromising situation. It’s really that simple.