Australia could pass laws to make it a crime for people to share private images online without permission, in a move planned to crack down on revenge porn, or putting up naked images without the subject’s consent.

Labor backbenchers Terri Butler and Tim Watts will this week release an exposure draft for legislation that will make it a criminal offence to post private images online without consent.

Tackling revenge porn — that is, where people share intimate photos of someone online without their permission with the intent to humiliate or shame them — has been something that has been the focus of lawmakers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and elsewhere, but only last year did Victoria pass laws creating a new offence to distribute, or threaten to distribute such images online.

Watts told Crikey that it was important to pass a law federally tackling revenge porn to send a message that it was wrong.

“I think it is something we can all agree can be taken seriously by the Parliament and the police. The problem is there is only one jurisdiction at the moment that has legislation specifically dealing with this issue. There are a range of pieces of legislation that peripherally get at it but certainly the AFP and other law enforcement agencies are saying they are not pursuing it through these other powers,” he said.

“It’s important that the Parliament sends a very clear message that this behaviour is repugnant, wrong, and it will be responded to with the full force of the law.”

The legislation will only target those individuals who share the private images online without consent, and would not seek to target the sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, Imgur, and others that host the content. Watts says the private sector is already making moves to crack down on revenge porn.

“There are open questions around takedown notices and things like that, but we can already see the private sector moving on this. Google has agreed to take it out of search results. Reddit has already been removing revenge porn sub-reddits, and so the private sector is moving on that,” he said.

The exact penalties will be decided on during the exposure draft process. Penalties for revenge porn vary in different jurisdictions. In the United Kingdom, those convicted face up to two years in jail. In Israel, the penalty is up to five years in jail.

Watts said that the legislation was focused on making those that share the images without consent take responsibility for their actions.

“We’re trying to keep the focus on this bill quite narrowly on personal responsibility. That’s an important message to send because a lot of the time we engage in 21st-century victim blaming,” he said.

“The point is, what you consent to in a relationship is what matters fundamentally, and any breach of that consent is what the law should be interested in.”

Watts is confident that the legislation will fit into the government’s family violence agenda, and hopes it will gain the support of the government.

“The issue of the use of technology and the internet to threaten, control and intimidate women is an agenda item for COAG at the moment. It is squarely within the family violence agenda at the moment,” he said.

“It’s clear the government is looking at this. I certainly think this would be consistent with what the government is trying to do in this space.”

In July, the government’s e-Safety Commissioner Alastair MacGibbon commenced in the new anti-bullying role, with the power to investigate, and seek to have  removed, content that is deemed to be bullying of an Australian child. In his role, however, MacGibbon only has power to investigate complaints related to people under 18, and places a responsibility on websites to remove bullying content.

Peter Fray

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