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The New England First Amendment Coalition recently called on Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to veto “revenge pornography” legislation that could criminalize constitutionally protected speech, saying the proposed law would chill news reporting.
Revenge pornography is commonly considered the sharing of images depicting adult nudity without the consent of the person pictured. Such images are often shared to humiliate or embarrass the people depicted in them.
These bills “will force news media to think twice about publicizing newsworthy images – whether of torture at Abu Ghraib or the Vietnam ‘napalm girl’ – that could run afoul of the act depending on a jury’s view of ‘newsworthiness’ and be subject to a year in prison,” wrote NEFAC, the ACLU of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Press Association and The Media Coalition in a May 31 letter to Gov. Raimondo.
The groups included with the letter a legal memo outlining their constitutional objections to the legislation.
Especially problematic, the groups explained, is the absence of an “intent to harm” requirement. Instead, the bills only require a reckless disregard for the harm that could occur regardless of the publisher’s intent.
This lower standard is exceptional compared to other laws enacted by states to address revenge pornography. Of the 37 states that have such laws, 26 of them have an intent to harm requirement with five others requiring that serious harm actually occur from the publication of an image.
The lack of an intent requirement would make Rhode Island an outlier among New England states: Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont all have “intent to harm” statutes, and Massachusetts presently has no statute at all.
“Our coalition takes very seriously the privacy interests at stake with revenge pornography legislation,” wrote Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, in a March 27 letter to members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. “These interests, however, need to be protected in a way that does not infringe on the First Amendment rights provided by our Constitution.”
The May 31 letter is the most recent effort by NEFAC to protect the rights of journalists and news organizations from overbroad revenge pornography legislation. The coalition has communicated its concerns to officials on several other occasions since June 2016.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
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Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.