New measures proposed to criminalise revenge porn, stalking and ‘upskirting’

Legal experts call for legislation to tackle unauthorised online posting of explicit images

New measures proposed to criminalise revenge porn, stalking and ‘upskirting’

File photo: PA Wire

The Law Reform Commission has recommended introducing new legislation to tackle the posting of sexually explicit images without consent.

A report published by the independent legal body also calls for the criminalisation of stalking and 'upskirting', the surreptitious taking of photos up a skirt or dress.

Reforms are suggested for the existing offence of harassment, to ensure it includes online activity such as posting fake social media profiles.

The report also proposes amending the legislation dealing with threatening and intimidating messages, in order to recognise the most serious types of online intimidation.

The offences in question would carry, on summary conviction, maximum penalties of a class A fine (currently not exceeding €5,000) and/or up to 12 months' imprisonment.

There would an unlimited fine and/or a sentence of up to seven years following conviction on indictment.

It is proposed that courts should also have the power to issue restraining orders restricting suspects from communicating and approaching victims, even if there has not been a criminal prosecution.

Such an order can only currently be issued if a prosecution has been brought.  

The Report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety is expected to inform future legislation in the area.

Its publication comes just days after Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald signalled her support for measures to deal with revenge porn.  

Addressing a conference in Belfast on Friday, Ms Fitzgerald said the issue should be addressed in the crafting of a renewed nation women's strategy. 

Take-down procedures

Another LRC recommendation is to establish a digital safety commissioner modelled on comparable offices in Australia and New Zealand.

The report says one of the functions of the role would involve publishing a new statutory code of practice on digital safety, which would set out standards on take-down procedures.

Under the proposed system, individuals would initially apply directly to a social media site to have harmful material removed in accordance with agreed timelines.

If a social media site did not comply with the standards, the individual could then appeal to the digital safety commissioner, who could direct a social media site to fulfill the request.

The digital safety commissioner would be able to apply for a court order if the site refused to carry out the instruction.

The position's remit would include activity outside the state as well as offences occurring in Ireland.

The report also suggests measures to ensure the privacy of victims is protected in any prosecution for a harmful communications offence.

It says no prosecution should be brought against children under the age of 17, except with the consent of the director of public prosecutions.

Orla O'Connor of the National Women's Council welcomed the recommendations in an interview with Newstalk.

"It is really shifting the responsibility away from the victim," she said.

"Women, and our members, say this is increasingly a feature of abusive relationships. It is a form of abuse and control."

The proposed criminalisation of stalking is particularly welcome, Ms O'Connor added.