Calls to close gaps in revenge porn laws

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said a Law Reform Commission report on online abuse has highlighted potential gaps in the law.

She said it is important to “act now” to ensure laws protect people against revenge porn and the posting of voyeuristic material.

Women’s and children’s groups yesterday called on the Government to act urgently in implementing the LRC report.

The State’s legal advisory body called for a range of new and amended laws to criminalise online behaviour such as cyberbullying and revenge porn.

It also recommended the establishment of an oversight body to police a statutory code of conduct for the industry, including a procedure for the “takedown” of harmful material.

A spokesman Ms Fitzgerald said she commended the LRC for its “very thorough analysis” and would consider it carefully.

“From an initial view, it is clear that the report has highlighted potential gaps in the law dealing with harmful communication and digital safety,” said the spokesman.

“Phenomena such as so-called revenge pornography and the publication of voyeuristic material can do serious and lasting harm at the touch of button, and it is important that we act now to ensure our laws can deal effectively with these challenges.”

He said the commission had made “significant proposals” on the regulation of social media. He said it is a “complex issue”, requiring a cross-government response and where EU law has relevance.

He said Ms Fitzgerald will ensure that “comprehensive legislative and operational reforms based on the work of the commission are developed”.

Women’s Aid said digital abuse of women is “real, harmful, and must be treated as a serious crime”.

The group said a snapshot taken of the issue in 2015 revealed that 293 women who had contacted it had suffered digital abuse.

“The most common form of digital abuse we hear about are damaging rumours being spread about women both personally and professionally and having sexually explicit images posted online without consent (revenge porn),” said director Margaret Martin.

She said the problem is “growing year on year, especially for younger women”.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children also said there is “an urgent need” for law reform.

“Cyber safety is the child protection issue of our time: We are only beginning to understand the scale and nature of harm and criminal behaviour towards children online,” said chief executive Grainia Long.

TJ McIntyre of Digital Rights Ireland said the bulk of the report is “uncontentious” but did express concerns at some measures, including that a non-court body (a planned digital safety commissioner) could order the takedown of material without hearing from the person who posted it.

Twitter declined to comment but a spokesman confirmed it participated in the consultation and highlighted its work. This included a non-consensual nudity (revenge porn) policy, in place for well over a year, as well as a range of safety procedures and programmes.

UPDATE

A spokesperson for Facebook said: “We are, and will continue to be, fully committed to the safety of people using our services in Ireland. There is a lot to consider in this very detailed report and we look forward to engaging further in conversations about its recommendations in due course.”

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