Gardaí have ‘limited scope’ on ‘revenge porn’

Detective says legislation ‘very strong’ for child victims but not so for adults

 

The investigation of cyber harassment or so-called revenge porn is very poorly provided for under Irish law leaving gardaí with limited scope to act, a member of the specialist Garda unit responsible for probing such crime has said.

Det Sgt Jennifer Moloney of the new Children Protection and Human Exploitation Bureau believed the internet may need to be defined in legislation as a public place in order that laws dealing with harassment and threatening behaviour could be applied to online activity.

She said Irish legislation was clear and “very strong” for child victims, especially those who were being harassed and bullied with a sexual dimension and around the production and distribution of images of child sexual abuse.

However, if adults felt they had been seriously victimised on social media or online in any other way, including being depicted in intimate private photographs, the protections were much weaker.

“Revenge porn as it’s known… it is reported to us occasionally,” she told a Law Reform Commission seminar on cybercrime and cyberbullying affecting privacy and personal safety.

“Because I have dealt with the area of child abuse images, I would look at it to see whether there was some similar way of prosecuting somebody for putting up a pornographic image of an adult without their consent.

“And I even looked at things like copyright legislation. This doesn’t apply in these areas so we come back always to harassment,” she said of trying to apply laws against traditional forms of harassment to the internet.

Because there were no cyber harassment laws in Ireland, the frequency of such complaints to the Garda were recorded with general harassment crime data meaning the extent of the issue online was unknown.

Det Sgt Moloney described as “a bit outdated for the internet” the Post Office (Amendment) Act 1951, which criminalises the use of a phone for harassment purposes or in a menacing way likely to cause anxiety.

She added recent amendments took into account sending text messages by phone. But it remained unclear if suspect activity on social media conducted online via smart phone would be covered by the legislation because the lack of prosecutions meant there was no case law.

“Our options for prosecution are quite limited when it comes to adults; especially when the abuse is taken from the physical world into the virtual world.”

Some powers the Garda had to request data from technology or social media companies only related to fraud and theft offences.

And while retention of data legislation required technology companies to retain data for one year, many offences are not reported in time.

There were also no penalties for those who did not retain data as required.

And very often, especially when dealing with a foreign company holding data, compliance with orders takes 18 months; a delay Det Sgt Moloney said could be “very, very distressing”.

Even large companies based in Ireland often told the Garda while the data being sought was available or accessible in the Republic, it was technically held overseas.

It meant international assistance from foreign law enforcement agencies must be sought to access the data.