May 31, 2020

Update: Florida's 'revenge porn' law

Jason Garcia | 2/18/2019

A state senator wants to close the loopholes in a four-year-old law that was supposed to stop people from engaging in “revenge porn” – the practice of disseminating intimate pictures of former romantic partners without their permission.  

Florida’s “sexual cyberharassment” law, signed into law by former Gov. Rick Scott in May 2015, makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to publish a sexually explicit image of a person without their consent with the intent of causing that person emotional distress. 

But the law has suffered from two main problems since its inception. First, the law says the photo must include “personal identification information” of the person who is depicted, which is defined as any “name or number” that can be used to identify someone – such as an address, date of birth or phone number. Disseminating a photo by itself is not a crime.  

Second, the law only covers photos that are posted to a website. Emailing or texting such photos is still legal. 

The flaws wound up in the law when the Florida House of Representatives unexpectedly adjourned three days early during the 2015 legislative session amid a separate fight with the Senate over whether to expand Medicaid coverage. The Florida Supreme Court later ruled that the early adjournment, which came as lawmakers raced to negotiate final changes to dozens of pieces of legislation, violated the state Constitution. 

Florida Trend wrote about the problems with the new law in its August 2015 issue: “Act of revenge? How the ‘revenge porn’ bill ended up so flawed.

A bill filed Monday by Sen. Gayle Harrell, a Republican from Stuart, would close both loopholes. It would expand the definition of “personal identification information” to include photos that don’t have an identifying name or number attached to them but include a “unique physical representation” of the victim. And in addition to photos posted to websites, the bill would also make it a crime to disseminate such photos via electronic means. 

Harrell said she agreed to sponsor the legislation after the Martin County Sheriff’s Office raised concerns about the current law’s effectiveness. 

“People are using this kind of texting of materials very inappropriately and basically are blackmailing people with it,” Harrell says. “Once you text something, it never goes away.”

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