NEFAC, Rhode Island Advocates: Safeguard First Amendment in ‘Revenge Porn’ Bills

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefirstamendment.org

JUNE 30 LETTER

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently wrote to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo in support of her “revenge porn” bill currently being debated by the state’s legislature.

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.

Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, testified earlier this year that while the privacy interests revenge porn bills seek to address are legitimate and in need of protection, any legislation considered should include First Amendment safeguards.

On June 30, NEFAC, the ACLU of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Press Association wrote to Gov. Raimondo to emphasize that point:

“On the table are a bill proposed by the Attorney General identical to the one you vetoed last year, the constitutional alternative you submitted, or, we understand, a ‘compromise’ bill based on one introduced by Governor Baker in Massachusetts . . . [W]e are writing to urge you to stay the course and call for passage of your legislation.”

Of particular concern to the groups is the possibility of legislation being passed that lacks an intent to harm requirement. The attorney general’s bill lacks such a requirement.

If Rhode Island passed that bill, it would be in contrast to the majority of states that enacted similar laws this year. Of the nine that have, seven require an intent to harm. Overall, 36 states have “revenge porn” laws and 26 of those states have intent to harm requirements. In New England, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont all have “intent to harm” statutes; Massachusetts currently has no statute at all.

While the third bill would include an intent to harm, it would not be a requirement. One could be in violation of the law if the person depicted in the image could foreseeably suffer substantial emotional distress or financial harm.

“Many news stories cause emotional distress or financial harm,” the groups explained, citing the coverage of former Congressman Anthony Weiner as an example. “Certainly the publication of Anthony Weiner pictures caused him and his wife emotional distress. Weiner also likely suffered financial harm from their publication.”

The third proposal, the groups wrote, suffers many of the same constitutional infirmities as the attorney general bill, and “will chill free speech and likely result in a court challenge leaving no protection for victims of this conduct.”


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.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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