When is ‘revenge porn’ illegal? Lords call for clarity on when online activity ‘crosses the line’

A committee of peers said it was ‘astonished’ by scale of social media– but felt existing laws could cope

Clearer guidelines from the Government are needed so that people know when they can and cannot be prosecuted over “revenge porn”, social media “trolling” and other indecent material posted online, a Lords committee has said.

The group of peers called such practices “cowardly and despicable” – but called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to step in “so people know where they stand and don't cross the line”.

Read more: enough still isn't being done to stop revenge porn

The trend of “revenge porn” involves people uploading explicit videos and images of former partners to adult websites and social media networks once they have split up.

Internet safety charities have previously warned that it is becoming a growing problem, and yesterday the reality TV star Lauren Goodger added her voice to the increasing number calling for laws specifically targeting the practice.

Last week Lord Faulks, the justice minister, said the Government was urgently considering the possibility of new legislation.

But the House of Lords Communications Committee, in a review of the laws on social media crime, said current laws were “generally appropriate” and fit for purpose.

Their report nonetheless stated: “We would welcome clarification from the Director of Public Prosecutions as to the circumstances in which an indecent communication could and should be subject to prosecution under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 or Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988.”

The Only Way Is Essex star Lauren Goodger called for 'revenge porn' laws after an explicit video of her was leaked online The Only Way Is Essex star Lauren Goodger called for 'revenge porn' laws after an explicit video of her was leaked online Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, committee chairman Lord Richard Best said: “We don't think it is about changing the law. There are a lot of laws that could be used.”

He said the guidance was “good” but insisted it could be better, particularly in relation to revenge porn.

He went on: “We were astonished at the scale of social media. One and a half billion people on Facebook, 500 million tweets a day.

“One could not possibly police all of this but in extreme cases prosecution must follow. We need to know who is responsible... and get to them.”

Asked how this could be done in practice, Lord Best admitted it was “extraordinarily difficult”.

But he added: “Some of the websites are better than others in requiring people to register with them and keep track of real names.”

The report also outlined some measures to greater protect victims, pointing to schools, parents and the social media sites themselves.

The committee said: “We encourage website operators further to develop their ability to monitor the use made of their services. In particular, it would be desirable for website operators to explore developing systems capable of preventing harassment, for example by the more effective real-time monitoring of traffic.

“Our inquiry is limited to consideration of the law. It strikes us though that parents and schools have a responsibility generally to educate children: children need to be taught that being horrid online is just as wrong and hurtful as being horrid face to face.”

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