Calif. Senate Panel Moves 'Revenge Porn' Bill Forward

Jun 4, 2013 10:15 AM PST

SACRAMENTO — A California Senate panel today, 7-0, moved forward a newly introduced piece of legislation that targets "revenge porn" websites.

The bill now moves along to the state Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 255, introduced by state Sen. Anthony Cannella, would amend Section 653.2 of  the Penal Code and make it a crime to "cause substantial emotional distress or humiliation" to others by distributing over the Internet nude images of them along with personal identifying information.

The measure would punish convicted operators with one-year jail sentences and imposing fines of $1,000.

Revenge porn is a recent phenomenon and online category where website operators post nude or erotic images of women or men without their consent.

Some revenge porn sites include actual email addresses, cellphone numbers, links to Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn profiles, and residential addresses displayed for all to see.

At today's hearing, two witnesses gave testimony for and against the bill — Dr. Charlotte Laws and the ACLU's Francisco Lobaco.

Laws, an author, private investigator and former Los Angeles politician, urged the panel to give the measure an affirmative vote.

Laws last year contacted the FBI over, which allegedly posted photos of her daughter, Kayla Laws, a 25-year-old aspiring actress, whose nude photos ended up on the site. Kayla Laws claims her computer was hacked.

"It was a very traumatic experience for her, she curled up in a fetal position, and refused to leave her room," Charlotte Laws said.

Laws said that revenge porn operators are numb to civil litigation and that new legislation is needed in this "new era."

"Civil remedies don't work," she said. "Lawsuits are expensive for plaintiffs and website operators have no assets. Oftentimes they don't even show up in court when summoned — but they are afraid of law enforcement."

"Free speech is about public matters, nude and sexually explicit pictures of ordinary people are different. It is a private matter."

But Lobaca, the ACLU's legislative director for Northern California, said there are a number of constitutional deficiencies with the bill.

"Suffice it to say the posting of lawful even offensive speech is constitutionally protected, unless the speech violates an existing criminal law," Lobaca said. "The fact that it could be emotionally disturbing is protected by the Constitution."

Voting for SB 255 were Sens. Loni Hancock, Joel Anderson, Kevin de Leon, Steve Knight, Carol Liu and Darrell Steinberg.

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