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The 'gray legal area' of so-called 'cyber revenge'

The advent of technology -- especially online developments -- has opened a new realm of computer-related activities in recent years that now capture the close attention of state and federal criminal law authorities.

Those activities span a wide range, encompassing a number of actions that are investigated and prosecuted in Missouri and nationally as Internet crimes. They include things such as these: identity theft; online bank, mortgage and other types of fraud; hacking; child pornography and a host of other matters.

As has been noted by a number of commentators nationally, Internet crime allegations can involve matters that are extremely complex. Just as there are individuals across the country who unquestionably commit white collar crimes and other unlawful actions through illicit computer use, there are also persons who either unwittingly commit a criminal act or are altogether innocent of criminal allegations against them.

That ambiguity and potential for prosecutorial error is perhaps why only one state (New Jersey) currently has a law that makes the act of “revenge porn” -- also sometimes referred to as “cyber revenge”-- a criminal offense. That activity involves the online posting of sexually explicit pictures or videos of another person as -- allegedly -- revenge or to humiliate them.

To be sure, such online postings can rise to the level of criminal offenses under a number of circumstances, such as when they involve a minor or when the person who was taped or photographed did not consent and had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Cyber revenge is a different matter, though, falling into what one media account terms “a gray legal area.” Alleged victims of revenge porn are adults who agreed initially to being taped or photographed. An uploading of a single picture is much harder to term or prosecute as a criminal offense.

California lawmakers are currently debating a new bill that would make cyber revenge a misdemeanor in that state, providing for a potential jail term and fine. Conviction would not result in a defendant being required to register as a sex offender.

Officials in other states, including Missouri, are likely keeping tabs on how that debate ultimately plays out.

Source: CNN, "California weighs making 'revenge porn' illegal," Heather Kelly, Aug. 30, 2013

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