I think it’s safe to say none of us envy that hacker who managed to steal a ton of private celebrity snaps and release them online. One, because s/he is obviously some kind of horror-person. Two, because not only are celebs’ legal teams on his/her tail, so, now is the FBI. Gulp.
Nope, things are not looking good for the mysterious hacker — but what exactly, you may be wondering, will happen once they’re apprehended? Well, we wondered, too, which is why we hit up Mary Anne Franks, associate professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law, and vice president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, to clarify it all for us.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it here, guyss, some of what I discovered might make you mad — it had my blood boiling — so make sure to scroll to the very end to find out what you can do to help prevent such gross invasions of privacy from happening again.
So what laws exactly have been broken here? Can you break it down? It seems pretty clear that the minimal — or at least the basic charge that would be levied here would be a violation of what’s called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is a federal criminal law. It’s a really broad law that actually basically says you can’t misuse computers. Hunter Moore was arrested a few months ago for running a revenge porn site [because he violated this law].
Wait, was he arrested because of the porn? Or because he misused a computer? What’s interesting about his case and all of these cases is that nobody has been prosecuted for the actual content, that is the nonconsensual pictures. They’ve been prosecuted for how they got them. That’s the only thing that’s really illegal, or clearly illegal, in this country. You’re not allowed to hack into people’s computers. You’re not allowed to try to get their passwords. You’re not allowed to impersonate them to get information.
So Hunter Moore was charged because he had broken into the email accounts of several women to get their naked pictures. So similarly, here, that’s clearly what this person has done. The Scarlett Johansson hack from a couple of years ago — same thing. [Hacker Christopher Chaney] was charged with a sentence of 10 years because he had violated both the computer hacking laws and identity theft laws.
That’s crazy! They were only punished for the actual act of hacking? So what would happen if someone just published private photos online? Without hacking? Well, that would depend, right now, on which state they were in. As far as I can tell — unless I’m missing something — there isn’t any federal law that actually would criminalize just the disclosure, if we want to call it that, as opposed to the actual hacking.
But part of what we’ve been doing at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative is [trying to] advance laws that would criminalize the non-consensual disclosure of images. No matter how they were obtained. And there have been a handful of states that could at least, in theory, address that particular conduct. So not just the actual act of hacking, but also the act of publishing them or posting them or sending them out into the world.
So what would be the ramifications for someone who has passed around those photos? It would vary from state to state. We’ve had some states decide that it’s actually a sex offense and that it’s a felony and other states have decided it’s more like disorderly conduct and that it’s a misdemeanor. So it’s a real range of punishment.
So if it had been a felony, what would be the sentence handed down? Again, that would vary according to state codes. I think in many places, if you’re looking at a lower-class felony, probably something like five years.
What about the hacker? What would be his/her punishment for stealing all those photos? If the FBI decides to go with counting every one of the victims and every one of the pictures as a separate count, then they could really be stacking some serious time. 10, 20, 30 years.
What about looking at the pictures? Could we get in trouble for that? I hear some of McKayla Maroney’s photos were taken when she was under age. Yes. It would be one thing if you stumbled across these pictures. As a moral matter and legal matter, we don’t think it’s a good idea to punish people for things they come across without knowing what it is.
But the idea with child pornography is that if we know that it is, in fact, sexual images of a child and you look at it anyway or you possess it anyway, you’re actually committing a crime, too.
So what can we do? You know, if we want to help make photo leaks like this illegal — not just the actual act of hacking? We would really recommend that people visit our website. The specific campaign about non-consensual pornography, which is what we tend to call this, is EndRevengePorn.org. There’s a petition there. There’s sample legislation there.
We’ve made it easy for people to call up their representative and find out if they have a law [in their state] or not… We are working to pass a federal criminal law… Now is really the time. It’s too late in some ways, but it’s never too late in other ways to take some action and make it possible for sexual privacy to be protected from here on out.