Author: Danielle Citron

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Announcing Next Week’s Online Symposium on Prof. Fishkin’s Bottlenecks: A New Theory of Equal Opportunity

Next week, we are hosting an online symposium on Professor Joseph Fishkin’s book Bottlenecks: A New Theory of Equal Opportunity (Oxford University Press 2014). An exciting group of scholars will be joining us: Read More

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Dispatches from Durham: Sexual Double Standards, Victim Blaming, and Online Abuse

In a series of recent pieces, the Duke Chronicle documented the experience of female students who were shamed for their expressing their sexuality. In one case, a young woman sent an e-mail to her sorority sisters saying that she had sex with a well-known performer who visited campus. The e-mail was leaked to multiple fraternity listservs, the site Betches Love This, and anonymous gossip site Collegiate ACB. On the site, the student was called a “whore, cum dumpster, and swamp monkey.” The various posts received hundreds of similar comments. The student deactivated her Facebook profile, deleted her Instagram, and disabled her Twitter account. Duke freshman “Lauren” was working in the porn industry to earn money to defray some of her college expenses. Lauren had not told anyone about her porn work, until a male classmate confronted her after watching her in a porn film. The student shared his discovery at a fraternity rush event. The story of the “freshman pornstar” went viral. The day after the student talked to his friends, Lauren received more than 230 friend requests on Facebook. Within days, the topic “Freshman Pornstar” was trending on Collegiate ACB. As Lauren confided to the school newspaper, the torment on Duke’s fourth campus–the online campus of the “towering chapel of Facebook,” the “student center of Twitter,” and the “grungy alleyways of Collegiate ACB”–was unrelenting. In a month’s time, the “Freshman Pornstar” thread on Collegiate ACB had 136 comments. The post was the seventh-most-recently commented post on Duke’s page on the gossip site. Some of the now-188 comments were vile, urging readers to write in once they have “banged” her and claiming that she slept with specific individuals and members of fraternities. Some were dangerous, noting her name and address. Comments blamed her for the abuse she was getting: “we going to pretend like she was unaware of the social consequences of going into that business? she made a decision, now she needs to live with the consequences;” “There’s no way she’s going to become a lawyer being a porn star (no law school is going to accept her). Seriously, she needs to get over herself and face the consequences of being a slut. I’ll be surprised if Duke doesn’t kick her out;” “Congratulations, you’ve ruined your own life.” Others defended the student: “you’re seriously making fun of her for that? um.. yeah this is the epitome of bullying.. you guys have written on a public forum her full name and where she lives (leaving her open for stalking and harassment) . as well as calling her a slut and attacking her personal beliefs.” As Lauren told the Chronicle, she feels harassed, hated, and discriminated against. She questions her decision to go to Duke given the abuse.

The Duke Chronicle’s editorial board wrote that the elite university is an “embittered battleground and discussions about Lauren–a first-year porn actress–have extracted salacious and sexist commentary from Duke’s student community.” The board found two primary themes in the commentary: characterizations of Lauren as a morally bankrupt slut and comments expressing a lewd desire to have sex with her. A third, unexamined theme, however, was also apparent–that Lauren was to blame for anything bad coming her way. She chose to do porn, so she assumed the risk of online harassment, poor employment opportunities, social shunning, and the possibility of getting kicked out of school.

Blaming the victim is a typical response to individuals facing online harassment, individuals who are mostly female and who are mostly attacked in sexually demeaning and threatening ways, as my articles and forthcoming book Hate Crimes in Cyberspace explore. After tech blogger Kathy Sierra was threatened with rape and strangulation via e-mail and on her blog, the response was that she chose to blog, so if she could not handle the heat, she should get out of the kitchen. College students blogging about sex were told that they “asked for” rape threats, defamatory lies, and the non-consensual posting of their nude photos because they blogged about their sexuality. Lena Chen’s experience was typical. When Chen attended Harvard, she wrote Sex and the Ivy. Anonymous commenters attacked her not with substantive criticisms of her opinions, but rather with death threats, suggestions of sexualized violence, and racial slurs. On a gossip blog, someone posted her sexually explicit photos, taken by her ex-boyfriend, without her consent. As Slate writer Amanda Hess reported (who would later face rape threats herself, see her recent article about her experience), Chen’s nude photos were reposted all over the Internet. The abuse continued even after she shut down the blog. Chen was accused of provoking the abuse by “making a blog about her personal sex life.” She was labeled an “attention whore” who deserved what she got. Commentators said that she leaked her own naked photos to get attention. Others said that she wrote about sex because she wanted posters to make sexual advances. We hear the same about victims of revenge porn.

Blaming the victim is a recurring theme. Society once blamed female employees for provoking their employers’ sexual advances. Wives were once told that they provoked domestic abuse. Just as society now recognizes sexual harassment at work and domestic abuse as serious social problems that victims did not bring on themselves, female college students are not to blame for online abuse if they have sex or make porn. Bloggers who write about sex are not to blame for online attacks. Revenge porn victims should not be blamed when harassers violate their trust and vindictively post their nude photos. Sexual double standards are at the heart of this response. Would we, for instance, say the same to men writing about sex? Tucker Max earned millions from writing books and a blog about his drunken sexual experiences with hundreds of women. By contrast, female sex bloggers have been attacked and told that they “asked for it.” As the Duke chronicle insightfully noted, the wildly different responses to the sexual escapades of Duke graduates Tucker Max and Karen Owen confirm that a sexual double standard is alive and well.


 

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Could Revenge Porn Victims Seek Civil Liability Against Hunter Moore?

Suppose that former revenge porn operator Hunter Moore is convicted of federal crimes of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking. Could individuals whose nude photos appeared on his site next to their home addresses and screenshots of their Facebook profiles sue Moore for intentional infliction of emotional distress and public disclosure of private fact? Probably not, but it’s worth exploring the issue.

The closest case law involves civil penalties provided for under federal criminal law. In M.A. v. Village Voice, a federal district court judge found that Backpage.com enjoyed Section 230 immunity for civil penalties under the child trafficking statute, 18 U.S.C. 2255. Section 2255 allows victims of child trafficking to recover damages from those who had committed or profited from the crimes against them. provides that, “[a]ny person who, while a minor, was a victim of a violation of [criminal statutes concerning child trafficking] and who suffers personal injury as a result of such violation may sue” and “recover actual damages such person sustained.” The representatives of a victim of child trafficking argued that Section 230 immunity was inapplicable because Backpage.com had profited from the plaintiff’s victimization in violation of Section 2255. As the court held, however, Section 2255 was a “civil damages” provision of Title 18, not federal criminal law.

The only remaining question is whether Moore materially contributed to the contested content–nude photos and Facebook screen shots. If so, he could be found liable as a co-developer of the content that often was tantamount to cyber stalking. Of course, the question of liability would remain. Just because a site operator does not enjoy immunity from liability does not mean he would be strictly liable for torts of intentional infliction of emotional distress, for instance. The question would be whether he intentionally inflict emotional distress on particular individuals? Recall that Moore boasted to the press that the more embarrassing and destructive the material, the more money he made. When a reporter told him that revenge porn had driven people to commit suicide, Moore said that he did not want anybody to die, but if it happened, he would be grateful for the publicity and advertising revenue it would generate; “Thank you for the money . . . from all of the traffic, Googling, redirects, and press.” Earlier this year, Moore told Betabeat’s Jessica Roy that he was relaunching his site including not just of people’s Facebook accounts, but their home addresses. “We’re gonna introduce the mapping stuff so you can stalk people,” he told Roy. When talking to Forbes’s Kashmir Hill, Moore backed off his statement, claiming to be drunk, but had tweeted, “I’m putting people’s house info with google earth directions. Life will be amazing.”

More broadly, sites that principally host revenge porn are making a mockery of Section 230. As Citizen Media Law Project’s Sam Bayard explains, a site operator can enjoy the protection of Section 230 while “building a whole business around people saying nasty things about others, and . . . affirmatively choosing not to track user information that would make it possible for an injured person to go after the person directly responsible.” In my book Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, I explore the possibility of Section 230 reform to ensure that the worst actors don’t enjoy immunity. It’s certainly a perverse result that the “Good Samaritan” provision of the Communications Decency Act immunizes from liability sites that solicit and principally host revenge porn and other forms of cyber stalking. More to come in August, when Harvard University Press publishes the book.

 

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Some Thoughts on Section 230 and Recent Criminal Arrests

We’ve devoted considerable attention on our blog to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes online service providers/hosts from liability for user-generated content. Site operators are protected from liability even though they knew (or should have known) that user-generated content contained defamation, privacy invasions, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil rights violations, and state criminal activity. Providing a safe harbor for ISPs, search engines, and social networks is a good thing. If communication conduits like ISPs did not enjoy Section 230 immunity, they would surely censor much valuable online content to avoid publisher liability. The same is true of search engines that index the vast universe of online content and produce relevant information to users in seconds and, for that matter, social media providers that host millions, and some billions, of users. Without Section 230, search engines like Google and Bing and social media providers like Yelp, Trip Advisor, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter might not exist. The fear of publisher liability would have inhibited their growth. For that reason, Congress reaffirmed Section 230’s importance in the SPEECH Act of 2010, which requires U.S. courts to apply the First Amendment and Section 230 in assessing foreign defamation judgments.

In the past few months, prosecutors have arrested notorious revenge porn site operators Hunter Moore, Kevin Bolleart, and Casey Meyering. Those arrests have raised the question, what about Section 230? Hunter Moore’s arrest is the least controversial. Although Section 230 immunity is broad sweeping, it isn’t absolute. It exempts from its reach federal criminal law, intellectual property law, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. As Section 230(e) provides, the statute has “[n]o effect” on “any [f]ederal criminal statute” and does not “limit or expand any law pertaining to intellectual property.” Federal prosecutors indicted Moore for conspiring to hack into people’s computers in order to steal their nude images. According to the indictment, Moore paid a computer hacker to access women’s password-protected computers and e-mail accounts to steal nude photos for financial gain—profits for his revenge porn site Is Anyone Up. Site operators may be held accountable for violating federal criminal law.

What about revenge porn operators Bolleart and Meyerson who are facing state criminal charges? Generally speaking, site operators are not transformed into “information content providers” (who are not immunized from liability) unless they co-developed or co-created the allegedly criminal/tortious content, such as by paying for the illegal content and reselling it or drafting some of the contested content themselves. California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s prosecutions of both Bolleart and Meyerson press the question whether Section 230’s immunity extends to sites that effectively engage in extortion by encouraging the posting of sensitive private information and profiting from its removal.

Let’s take Bolleart’s case. It’s based on a similar theory as the case against Meyerson, who runs WinbyState, a private revenge porn site with a connected site that charges for the take down of photos. In December 2013, Bollaert, operator of revenge porn site UGotPosted, was indicted for extortion, conspiracy, and identity theft. His site featured the nude photos, Facebook screen shots, and contact information of more than 10,000 individuals. The indictment alleged that Bollaert ran the revenge porn site with a companion takedown site, Change My Reputation. According to the indictment, when Bollaert received complaints from individuals, he would send them e-mails directing them to the takedown site, which charged up to $350 for the removal of photos. Attorney General Harris explained that Bollaert “published intimate photos of unsuspecting victims and turned their public humiliation and betrayal into a commodity with the potential to devastate lives.”

Bollaert will surely challenge the state’s criminal law charges on Section 230 grounds. His strongest argument is that charging for the removal of user-generated photos is not tantamount to co-developing them. Said another way, charging for the removal of content is not the same as paying for, or helping develop, it. That is especially true of the identity theft charges because Bollaert never personally passed himself off as the subjects depicted in the photos. Nonetheless, the state has a strong argument that the extortion charges fall outside Section 230’s immunity because they hinge on what Bollaert himself did and said, not on what his users posted. Only time will tell if that sort of argument will prevail. Even if the California AG’s charges are dismissed on Section 230 grounds, federal prosecutors could charge Bollaert with federal criminal extortion charges. Sites that encourage cyber harassment and charge for its removal (or have a financial arrangement with removal services) are engaging in extortion. At the least, they are actively and knowingly conspiring in a scheme of extortion. Of course, this possibility depends on the enforcement of federal criminal law vis-à-vis cyber stalking, which as we have seen is stymied by social attitudes and insufficient training.

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Exciting New Chapter for CoOp: Thanks to Collins and Yung

The blog has made some exciting steps forward. We have changed our look. For many, I imagine it has taken some getting used to–I wrestled with the various changes to the New  Republic and New York magazines and each time, I adjusted. We are hoping that our new look appeals to our readers. More importantly, we have two new, fantastic permabloggers. Ronald K.L. Collins is a free speech thought leader; Corey Yung does fantastic work on judicial decision-making, criminal law, and sex crimes. Looking forward to reading and writing!

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Introducing Guest Blogger Margaret Hu

I am delighted to introduce Professor Margaret Hu who will be guest blogging with us this month. I’ve blogged about her superb work here, and it is such a honor to have her aboard.

HU-MARGARET_newbkgrnd

Professor Hu is an Assistant Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, and joined the faculty in 2013. Her research interests include the intersection of immigration policy, national security, cybersurveillance, and civil rights.  Previously, she served as senior policy advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and also served as special policy counsel in the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, in Washington, D.C. Professor Hu’s work has been published in the Indiana Law Journal and the U.C. Davis Law Review.
Professor Hu holds a B.A. from the University of Kansas and a J.D. from Duke Law School. She is a Truman Scholar and a Foreign Language Area Studies Scholar. She clerked for Judge Rosemary Barkett on the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, and subsequently joined the U.S. Department of Justice through the Attorney General’s Honors Program.
Here are links to her work:

 

 

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Welcoming Back Ari Waldman

We are thrilled to welcome back Professor Ari Ezra Waldmanpicture_002_-_version_2-1.jpg to the blog! Professor Waldman is Associate Professor and Director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School and the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Columbia University. His research focuses on privacy, online hate and harassment, and digital aspects of intellectual property law. His doctoral dissertation, tentatively titled, “Privacy as Trust,” is a study of online sharing behavior and it’s implications for privacy law and policy. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard College.

His recent publications include:

Durkheim’s Internet: Social and Political Theory in Online Society, 7 N.Y.U. J. LAW & LIBERTY 355 (2013)

Marriage Rights and the Good Life: A Sociological Theory of Marriage and Constitutional Law, 64 HASTINGS L. J. 739 (2013)

All Those Like You: Identity Aggression and Student Speech, 77 MISSOURI L. REV. 563 (2013)

Hostile Educational Environments,71 MARYLAND L. REV. 705 (2012)

Tormented: Anti-Gay Bullying in Schools, 84 TEMPLE L. REV. 385 (2012)

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Atrocious Privacy Invasion: Non-Consensual Videotaping of Sex Indicted in NY

Criminalizing privacy invasions has a long history. In their ground-break article The Right to Privacy published in 1890, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis argued that “[i]t would doubtless be desirable that the privacy of the individual should receive the added protection of the criminal law.” Since that time, lawmakers have banned the non-consensual recording of individuals in a state of undress in contexts where they have reasonable expectation of privacy. New York’s unlawful surveillance law, for instance, prohibits use of an imaging device to secretly record or to broadcast another person undressing or having sex for the purpose of degrading that person in cases where the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

In November 2013, a New York former private wealth adviser was indicted for nineteen counts of unlawful surveillance and attempted unlawful surveillance for secretly taping himself having sex with different women without their consent. The illegal tapings allegedly occurred over a year’s time and apparently were many.

The New York Post talked to one of the victim’s attorney, Daniel Parker, who explained that the man posted the illegal videos on Internet sites. According to Parker, the man “used an elaborate system of surveillance using multiple devices in both his bedroom and their homes.” In other words, the man not only had various cameras in his own bedroom to tape himself having sex with women who had no idea and never consented but he also secretly taped himself having sex with the women in their homes. Parker explained that the man “left a trail and it was on YouTube and Vimeo.” What were those hidden devices? The man apparently used a hidden camera, a web cam and a stealth phone app to film the women engaged in various sexual acts. According to Parker, the man installed a hidden camera in the bookshelf of his East 69th Street apartment.

The victims delivered the video footage to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office prompting the investigation. Kudos to prosecutor Siobahn Carty for bringing the case, though my sense is that it took the victims considerable energy and time to convince law enforcement to take their case seriously and to understand the technology used to perpetrated the egregious privacy violations. Technical ignorance is common amongst law enforcement, well, and common for may people. Troubling cultural attitudes and “I don’t get the tech” response are notorious responses to different forms of harassment, including non-consensual taping of individuals in their most intimate moments. I will report more on the case as I get a hold of the indictment.


 

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Call for Papers: “Governing Intelligence in the Digital Age” Sponsored by Stanford Journal on International Law

The Stanford Journal on International Law has a call for papers for an upcoming conference entitled “Governing Intelligence in the Digital Age.”

Governing Intelligence

in the Digital Age

May 2-3, 2014 at Stanford Law School

Background

 

In the aftermath of former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures about the scale of the NSA’s electronic surveillance operations, the recurrent dispute over the post-9/11 boundaries of the national security state is once again in full swing.

In the United States, the revelations have brought to the fore concerns ranging from the so-called balance between national security and privacy to the proper degree of judicial and congressional oversight of the Intelligence Community.  Legislators, academics, and commentators have put forward various proposals to rein in intelligence including, most prominently, calls for greater transparency in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  As a result, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has pledged to conduct a “total review” of all intelligence programs.

Across the Atlantic, the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament has launched a wide-ranging inquiry into the legality of the alleged electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens.  The EP has also called for the suspension of the US-EU Agreement concerning the US Department of the Treasury’s Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP), which is meant to facilitate the transatlantic exchange of financial data for counterterrorism purposes.  Although the EP lacks formal authority to suspend the agreement, its forceful response may be indicative of the EU’s considerable concern for privacy, which may also be at work in its robust data protection regime. Read More

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Attention Prawfs in NYC for AALS: the Annual Prawfs/CoOp Happy Hour

Attention Prawfs in NYC for AALS: the annual Prawfs/Co-Op Happy Hour will be this Friday at 930pm until midnight (at least) at the Hilton “Bridges” Bar. See you then and there, and please pass it on!
As you’ll see from Yelp, we’re apparently prioritizing location and big pours in our selection of venue:
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bridges-bar-hilton-new-york-new-york

Much thanks to the wonderful Dan Markel for organizing it!