Now That Basically All Revenge Porn Has Moved Out Of The US, Al Franken Says FBI Should Do Something

In the last few months, the small group of slimeballs who ran revenge porn websites have mostly been taken down by the legal system. The FTC went after Craig Brittain (though, weakly). Kevin Bollaert was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in jail. And Hunter Moore took a plea deal that will send him to jail for a while. Another revenge porn purveyor, Casey Meyering is about to face a trial. Not everyone will agree with whether or not the punishments are reasonable or fair (and you can definitely argue that the difference in punishment between Brittain and Bollaert is insane — given that Brittain appears to have done the same thing as Bollaert, and actually did it first). On top of that, platforms like Twitter and Reddit have both changed their terms of service to make it much more difficult to use either to promote revenge porn.

However, the good thing is that all of this legal activity and platform policy changes have worked in terms of making it clear that revenge porn is not a worthwhile pursuit. According to Adam Steinbaugh, who is famous for tracking down and exposing the people who run revenge porn sites, all of this activity means that almost all revenge porn sites in the US have shut down. He believes there’s still one left (which we won’t name here), but we’ll see how long that lasts.

And… even though various states have rushed to pass anti-revenge porn laws, none of the cases above relied on such laws. Rather they used existing laws around unauthorized computer hacking and extortion to bring those individuals and sites down. And yet, we still hear from politicians who insist that we need new laws — laws that will put important safe harbors like Section 230 at risk. Laws that may, also, run up against the First Amendment.

Apparently, even as existing laws and voluntary efforts have thankfully pushed revenge porn far away, people still want to grandstand over it. The latest is Senator Al Franken. Franken is often good on tech policy issues (though he was on the wrong side of SOPA). For reasons unknown, he’s suddenly decided that revenge porn is a big issue that he needs to take on.

In a letter to FBI Director James Comey on Friday, the Minnesota Democrat said he hoped the government would ramp up its recent steps to address the problem.

You can read the letter [pdf] yourself and see. The letter notes the conviction of Hunter Moore (but not the others) and the moves by Twitter and Reddit, but somehow fails to note that these efforts have been rather successful in reducing the easy access to revenge porn. Instead, he demands more action.

In light of this, I request that you provide information on all legal authorities available to the FBI to investigate cases involving the nonconsensual disclosure of sexually explicit images and any statistics on how your authorities, including federal hacking and identity theft laws, have been used to combat conduct of this nature. Furthermore, I ask that you provide information on any limitations in current law that you have identified that may have prevented the FBI from conducting investigations and making arrests in cases of nonsconsensual disclosure of sexually explicit images.

Of course, it doesn’t take that much looking to recognize that the Justice Department has, in fact, spent a lot of time going after malicious hackers who have been breaking in to phones and computers to leak nude photos. But Franken seems to ignore all of that.

Instead, the language used in the letter suggests that Franken is going to release a federal anti-revenge porn law to give the feds even more power to go after people. There have been a few such attempts in the past to put forth federal anti-revenge porn laws and they’ve all been very, very problematic. This is not saying that revenge porn isn’t a problem — but the “solution” in the form of legislation will have massive and dangerous consequences for free speech and innovation online — all to deal with a problem that has already mostly been eliminated, and where further steps can easily be taken without passing dangerous new laws that undermine Section 230 of the CDA or the First Amendment. Or which would create new penalties in dangerous ways that could be abused like the CFAA.

For Senator Franken — who often presents himself as being one of the more internet savvy politicians — to be moving in a direction that could undermine key rules that helped make the internet what it is today is a big problem. Over the last few months we’ve seen how existing laws and a few small changes to existing platforms can be used to make most of these bad sites go away. Do we really need to pass sweeping new laws that will undoubtedly have serious additional consequences?

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