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Reps. Speier and Katko Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Address Online Exploitation of Private Images

May 22, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON. D.C. – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Congressman John Katko (R-NY) today introduced H.R. 2896, the Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution Act of 2019 (the “SHIELD Act”). This bipartisan legislation seeks to address the exploitation of private, sexually explicit or nude images often referred to as “revenge porn” or “sextortion.” Rep. Speier introduced the very first bill to tackle this harmful and widespread issue in the 114th Congress, as the Intimate Privacy Protection Act (IPPA) of 2016. Companion legislation will be introduced in the Senate by Senator Kamala Harris.
 
“For victims of nonconsensual pornography, technology today makes it possible to destroy a person’s life with the click of a button or a tap on a cell phone. The damage caused by these attacks can crush careers, tear apart families, and, in the worst cases, has led to suicide,” Rep. Speier said. “What makes these acts even more despicable is that many predators have gleefully acknowledged that the vast majority of their victims have no way of fighting back. Even in states that have laws on the books, the average person can’t afford to take on these predators in civil courts. Worse yet are the numerous victims who have mustered the courage and strength to pursue criminal charges, only to learn there is no law that protects them. The SHIELD Act will fix this gaping hole in our legal system.”

“The nonconsensual sharing of intimate imagery without legal recourse is unacceptable, carrying severe consequences that transcend digital platforms and place lives at risk,” Rep. Katko said. “As a former prosecutor, I can speak directly to the importance of enacting substantive and consistent laws to ensure justice for the survivors of these heinous crimes. With that in mind, I am proud to join Congresswoman Speier in introducing the SHIELD Act, which would establish commonsense privacy protections to prohibit the widespread distribution of nonconsensual pornography. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance this important legislation and ensure our nation’s privacy laws are keeping pace with modern demands for online safety.”

“Nobody, under any circumstances, should have private images shared on the internet without their consent,” Sen. Harris said. “I’m proud to join with my colleagues in the House to reintroduce legislation that will give prosecutors important new tools to bring perpetrators to justice and further deter them from committing such an egregious violation of privacy.”

The SHIELD Act would:
 
•    Ensure that the Department of Justice has an appropriate and effective tool to address these serious privacy violations.
 
•    Narrowly establish federal criminal liability for individuals who share private, sexually explicit or nude images without consent.
 
•    Strike an effective balance between protecting the victims of these serious privacy violations and ensuring that vibrant online speech is not burdened.

Prosecution under the SHIELD Act would require proving that the defendant was aware of a substantial risk that the person depicted in an image expected the image would remain private and that the person did not consent to the image’s distribution. A prosecution would also have to prove that no reasonable person would consider the shared image to touch on a matter of public concern.

Though 45 states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes in this area, they offer incomplete and inconsistent coverage.

The SHIELD Act is cosponsored in the House of Representatives by Reps. Julia Brownley (D CA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Debra Haaland (D-NM), Katie Hill (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), David Joyce (R-OH), Ann McLane Kuster (D NH), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Darren Soto (D-FL), Mike Thompson (D-CA), and Paul Tonko (D-NY).
 
 Quotes from cosponsors and groups that support the act are listed below:

“Technology is a powerful tool that is often used for good, but it can also be used to threaten, defame and harm individuals,” Rep. Joyce said. “As a former prosecutor of 25 years, I have seen the impact crimes of sexual harassment have on victims and know how important it is to crack down on those who commit them. I’m proud to join the bipartisan effort to do just that as a cosponsor of the SHIELD Act.”
 
“Victims of nonconsensual pornography have had their lives turned upside down and often feel desperate, trapped, and isolated,” Rep. Clark said. “Protecting them means our laws must catch up with the realities of an online world in which millions are navigating their personal and professional lives.”

“It is past due that we arm DOJ with the tools to protect victims of revenge porn and curb the non-consensual distribution of private or explicit images,” Rep. Meeks said. “Increasingly we have seen states independently move to provide prosecutors with enforcement measures, but it is ultimately up to Congress to act and pass legislation that protects victims nation-wide. I am proud to cosponsor the SHIELD Act and urge my colleagues to join us in bringing justice for victims once and for all.”


“SAG-AFTRA represents 160,000 actors, singers, dancers, broadcasters and recording artists who are at high risk of being victimized by image-based sexual abuse,” said David White, the National Executive Director of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. “The decision to appear nude in any photographic or video content is a serious decision for any person, and it is a human rights violation for this choice to be taken away from them.”

“The SHIELD Act is a significant step forward in establishing clear federal protections for victims of revenge porn while upholding free speech rights for all Americans. The legislation will criminalize this particularly pernicious form of online abuse and make the Internet a safer space for the exchange of ideas and commerce,” said Daniel Castro, Vice President, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. “With this bill, Congress has a chance to crack down on the harm caused when abusers and harassers distribute private, explicit images of individuals without their consent. We thank Congresswoman Speier for her leadership on this issue.”

“Make no mistake: using explicit, private images for the purposes of blackmail or ‘revenge porn’ is a pervasive form of intimate partner violence,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority. “We know the lengths that an abuser will go to maintain control over their victim. The SHIELD Act, introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier and Rep. John Katko, is an important step towards helping survivors protect their privacy, get justice, and keep themselves safe.”

“In a world where smart phones and devices are used to record and transmit every moment in life, it is becoming increasingly important to protect against malicious sharing of private, explicit images. These online privacy violations exponentially and disproportionately target women and minors. While over 40 states have enacted statutes in this area, federal intervention is necessary to provide complete and consistent coverage across state lines. This important bill would narrowly establish federal criminal liability for individuals who share private, explicit images without consent, while including civil liberty safeguards to ensure that only those who share with malicious intent are liable,” said Bill Johnson, Executive Director of the National Association of Police Organizations.

“The internet industry urges the immediate passage the SHIELD Act because it’s past time that non-consensual intimate imagery (NCII) was criminalized at the federal level. NCII has no place on the internet and we commend Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and John Katko (R-NY) for their leadership on this important issue in the House,” said Michael Bloom, Vice President for Federal Government Affairs at Internet Association (IA). “IA and our member companies are committed to helping the victims of NCII remove this insidious content and secure justice against bad actors. We will continue working with policymakers and government to make our services safe places for everyone. IA looks forward to this important legislation passing both the House and Senate with bipartisan support.”

“When someone’s intimate images are shared without their permission it can be devastating,” said Antigone Davis, Global Head of Safety at Facebook. “We have zero tolerance for it on Facebook and, around the country, states have passed legislation to criminalize this abhorrent practice. We stand with safety and consumer advocates in pushing for the same at the federal level and applaud Representative Speier and her colleagues for leading the way.”