Labour publishes Bill to criminalise ‘revenge porn’

Legislation to punish cyberbullying which will create a new criminal offence that will see those convicted of “revenge porn” facing up to six months in prison has been put forward by the Labour Party.

The Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, was unveiled by party leader Brendan Howlin, who said the legislation aimed to address loopholes in antiquated laws.
Currently there is no specific provision in Irish law to punish people who distribute intimate or sexually-explicit images of a partner or former partner without their consent, meaning such cases are difficult to prosecute.

The Bill proposes updating the existing definitions of communication and harassment so that acts such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying and dissemination of revenge porn can be codified into law.

Cases involving harmful digital communications are usually dealt with under the Post Office (Amendment) Act, 1951, and the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, both of which predate modern technology and are unfit to police the area, according to Mr Howlin.

At a launch event in Dublin on Tuesday, Labour councillor Martina Genockey spoke of the online sexual harassment and rape threats she received during her candidacy in the 2014 local elections.

Death threats

Former Labour senator Lorraine Higgins previously went public with the death threats she had received online. The threats prompted her to draft the Harmful and Malicious Electronic Communications Bill 2015, which sought to criminalise cyberbullying. The proposed legislation never progressed beyond the second stage in the Oireachtas. However, elements of that Bill have been reproduced in the proposed legislation put forward by Labour on Tuesday.
Mr Howlin said the Bill also contained recommendations made by the Internet Content Advisory Group in 2013.

He said updates and revisions were made to the Bill on foot of suggestions received from experts and charities who deal with the subject of online abuse.

Under the terms of the Bill anyone who causes another person harm or distress by persistently following, watching, pestering or communicating with or about them will be guilty of harassment and liable for a fine, a prison sentence of up to seven years or both.

If the people involved in the case were in an intimate relationship and the offender used personal information, an electronic device or software in the course of the harassment this could be taken into account by the court as an aggravating factor.

Intimate images

Even threatening to take, distribute or publish intimate images without consent would be punishable by a fine, six-months’ imprisonment or both under the revenge porn clause of the Bill.

A prohibited messages section of the Bill would create an offence out of publishing a threatening, false, indecent or obscene message to or about another person. This offence would be punishable by a fine and/or a prison sentence of up to seven years.

Mr Howlin defended the proposals against claims they would restrict personal freedoms or liberties, or that they represent unnecessary State intervention in the digital realm. “Free speech should remain just that. But harassment, stalking, and aggravated online bullying are not expressions of freedom – they are attacks on it...We hope this Bill will protect our people – all of our people.”