New laws for revenge porn to be introduced: We have a look at some of the required changes

By Asheeta Regidi

In a welcome move, the Ministry of Women and Child Development is seeking to make changes in the laws to deal with cybercrimes against women, as per a ToI report. There will also be a special focus on revenge porn, and plugging existing loopholes in the laws on the subject. Here’s a look at some of the changes which can help with effectively dealing with revenge porn.

What is revenge porn?

Revenge porn is when private, intimate images, often of a sexual nature, are uploaded or shared without the person’s consent. The upload/sharing is often by former partners, jilted lovers and the like, for the purpose of seeking revenge.

Revenge porn currently punishable with 3-7 years

Even without the specific laws, revenge porn is a crime, punishable with between 3-7 years imprisonment and a fine of upto Rs. 10 lakhs, under various sections of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Victims and perpetrators alike must keep the following points in mind:

i) Consent for capture is immaterial: It doesn’t matter if the victim consented to the capture of the images, videos or other content. So long as the content was published without consent, it is punishable under Sections 66E, 67, 67A of the IT Act and Section 354C of the IPC. The same apply to images captured without consent.

ii)  Content need not be sexual only: It isn’t only sexual images that are protected. Nude images, obscene images, even a capture of a private act or a person’s private areas are punishable.

iii)  Content with children: Publication of content with children attracts aggravated punishments under Section 67B of the IT Act. Note that a ‘child’ refers to anyone below the age of 18 years.

iv) Images, videos, fake content: These sections apply to different types of content, whether an image, video or even fake content like morphed or photoshopped images.

v)  Male and female victims: Both men and women are protected under these laws. The only exception is Section 354C of the IPC, which is specific to women, but men have a suitable alternative in Sections 67 and 67A of the IT Act.

vi)  Defamation and criminal intimidation: Extortion, harassment, revealing the victim’s name, etc. will attract laws on defamation and criminal intimidation under Sections 400 and 506 of the IPC.

As seen above, there are several laws which punish perpetrators of revenge porn. Several social media giants like Reddit and Twitter, have also banned and promised quick action against revenge porn. Facebook launched special tools against revenge porn recently, and Google has promised removal of revenge porn from search results. Despite these many protections, issues with effective tackling of revenge porn remain.

Changes needed in the law

Non-consensual porn: Several countries have dedicated revenge porn laws. The problem with a specific law on ‘revenge’ porn is that the issue of intent comes in. Instead of restricting laws to persons seeking revenge, laws should target non-consensual porn, focussing on lack of consent.

Revoking Consent: A person should be allowed to revoke consent for publication, following which the publisher must remove the content published. Failing to do so must also be punishable.

Aggravated punishments: Aggravated punishments should also be prescribed for factors like publication in public forums like social media websites or porn websites. Punishments should also be aggravated when the victim’s name and contact details are revealed, and even more so when the victim is portrayed to be soliciting. Cases of extortion and other harassment should also be punished specifically.

Damages: Provision should also be made for paying damages or compensation to the victim. Several laws on revenge porn in other countries prescribe damages between $5000-50,000 depending on the gravity of the act.

Gender neutral: While laws protecting women are required, men are equally susceptible to a crime like revenge porn. It should be ensured that male victims also have adequate protection under the law.

Need for speedy action

Steps are needed to ensure speedy removal of such content. Under the IT Act, removal by a website within 36 hours is ensured only when there is a court/ govt order. This should be removed for specific crimes, such as revenge porn. Also, judicial processes need to be quickened, such as through establishment of dedicated courts and prescribing timelines.

Technological control of dissemination and reuploads

One problem is that most of these laws come into play after the upload is done. By then most of the damage is already done, with sharing and reuploads of the content happening at a rapid pace, whether by the viewers or on multiple websites.

To control dissemination of such content, the recent MEITY order directing ISPs to implement Internet Watch Foundation resources to prevent the distribution and transmission of child sexual abuse material needs to be extended to revenge porn material.

For reuploads of content that is identified as revenge porn a system similar to YouTube’s Content ID system needs to be implemented. This technology compares every new image with a database of images identified as illegal. A match is also deemed illegal and its upload is prevented.

Research needs to be directed towards developing technology that can help with effectively preventing the spread of such material. Also, imposing greater responsibility on intermediaries should be considered.

Support systems for victims

Another issue that delays removal is the victim’s hesitation to report the crime. Along with sensitizing the public and also the police, support systems for victims need to be developed. These can be through dedicated helplines, NGOs or setting up sexual harassment centres in places like colleges, societies, etc.

Alternative remedies

Websites often deal with copyright claims far more quickly than with crimes due to the stringent notice- and-take down laws and possibility of being sued. People have been resorting to copyright laws (such as claiming ownership over a selfie posted as revenge porn) and also social media clauses in prenuptial agreements to prevent such uploads. It shows the ineffectiveness of the law if people need to resort to copyright and contractual remedies for a problem that should be squarely covered by criminal laws. Why copyright laws are more effective is an aspect that needs to be looked into while updating the laws.

The author is a lawyer with a specialisation in cyber laws and has co-authored books on the subject.


Published Date: Jun 03, 2017 11:48 am | Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 11:48 am