Al Franken Urges FBI to Crack Down on Revenge Porn

“New technologies can pose significant threats if bad actors are not held accountable to our nation’s laws,” Franken said.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) speaks during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee December 11, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing on 'Continued Oversight of U.S. Government Surveillance Authorities.'
National Journal
April 3, 2015, 10:21 a.m.

Sen. Al Franken is ur­ging the FBI to more quickly and ag­gress­ively pur­sue and re­spond to re­ports of re­venge porn, mark­ing a rare burst of at­ten­tion on a con­tro­ver­sial top­ic about which Con­gress has typ­ic­ally been quiet.

In a let­ter to FBI Dir­ect­or James Comey, the Min­nesota Demo­crat asked for more in­form­a­tion about the agency’s au­thor­ity to po­lice against re­venge porn, or the act of post­ing ex­pli­cit sexu­al con­tent on­line without the sub­ject’s con­sent, of­ten for pur­poses of hu­mi­li­ation and ex­tor­tion. Its pop­ular­ity has bal­looned in re­cent years, and vic­tims are dis­pro­por­tion­ately wo­men.

“The di­git­al age has brought many be­ne­fits for free speech, com­mer­cial activ­ity, and the shar­ing of in­form­a­tion, but new tech­no­lo­gies can pose sig­ni­fic­ant threats if bad act­ors are not held ac­count­able to our na­tion’s laws,” Franken wrote in his let­ter. “As tech­no­lo­gies rap­idly ad­vance, it is our re­spons­ib­il­ity to en­sure that our na­tion’s laws keep pace with those tech­no­lo­gies. But it is also our re­spons­ib­il­ity to en­sure that ex­ist­ing laws are strictly en­forced.”

Franken—the top Demo­crat on the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee’s pri­vacy, tech­no­logy and the law pan­el—asked Comey to ex­plain all the leg­al au­thor­it­ies at the FBI’s dis­pos­al that can used to in­vest­ig­ate and pur­sue re­venge-porn cases. The pri­vacy hawk also is re­quest­ing stat­ist­ics on how those au­thor­it­ies, ran­ging from hack­ing and iden­tity theft laws, have been used “to com­bat con­duct of this nature.”

In ad­di­tion, Franken wants in­form­a­tion on any lim­it­a­tions with­in cur­rent law that may have im­peded the FBI from car­ry­ing out in­vest­ig­a­tions or mak­ing ar­rests. Franken, who asked for a re­sponse by May 8, is ex­plor­ing wheth­er le­gis­la­tion may be ne­ces­sary to com­bat re­venge porn, his of­fice said.

Law­makers in Con­gress have been reti­cent to weigh in dir­ectly on re­venge porn, des­pite the growth of the in­dustry in re­cent years. Rep. Jack­ie Spei­er, a Cali­for­nia Demo­crat, has for the past year been work­ing on a bill that would crim­in­al­ize re­venge porn, but no bill has yet been in­tro­duced.

Open-In­ter­net ad­voc­ates gen­er­ally op­pose le­gis­la­tion that would ex­pand crim­in­al pen­al­ties to al­low au­thor­it­ies to go after op­er­at­ors of re­venge-porn web­sites. At the heart of the de­bate is Sec­tion 230 of the Com­mu­nic­a­tions De­cency Act, which gen­er­ally pro­tects web­sites such as You­Tube from be­ing leg­ally li­able for the third-party con­tent. Ex­cep­tions are made for copy­righted ma­ter­i­al and con­tent that vi­ol­ates cer­tain fed­er­al crim­in­al law, such as child porn, but web­sites still are able to avoid li­ab­il­ity if they ad­opt reas­on­able take­down policies.

Ab­sent fed­er­al ac­tion, sev­er­al states have passed re­venge porn laws of their own that make the prac­tice a crime.

Franken ap­plauded tech­no­logy com­pan­ies for be­com­ing in­creas­ingly di­li­gent in poli­cing against re­venge porn, cit­ing re­cent steps taken by Twit­ter and red­dit to make such con­tent easi­er to flag and re­move.

“I am hope­ful that these re­cent de­vel­op­ments and the in­creased pub­lic at­ten­tion to the prob­lem will lead to a more con­cen­trated fed­er­al ef­fort to com­bat this grow­ing threat to Amer­ic­ans’ pri­vacy and safety.”

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