Monthly Archives: November 2013

Sextortion 101: A Legal Primer

Sextortion: revenge porn's equally odious cousin.
Sextortion: revenge porn’s equally odious cousin.

First, revenge porn hit the scene. Now, sextortion is also on the stroll. “Sextortion,” you ask? A hybrid crime of extortion and hacking, sextortionists use malware to gain control of web cams, and then take nude pictures and videos of victim’s without their knowledge or consent. After that, the perpetrator usually contacts the victim and demands money in exchange for not publishing the material. Unlike revenge porn, sextortion is illegal everywhere. If you get caught, you’re going to need superb lawyering to keep you out of jail.

Teenage Sextortionist Could Face Over A Year In Jail

Nineteen year old Jared James Abrahams of California recently found out the hard way that sextortion will land you in a heap of trouble with the law. After successfully using malware to commander the web cams of several women, including Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf, Abrahams amassed a library of unsolicited nudie media. He then contacted his victims and demanded “payment or else.” One of Abraham’s targets said he threatened to turn her “dream of being a model…into a port star.”

He Confessed Instead Of Going Through A Trial

But apparently Abrahams didn’t cover his tracks well enough and authorities smoked him out of his hole. Now he is facing time behind bars. And since Abrahams’ sextortion racket reached its tentacles into Ireland, Canada, Russia and Moldova, international suits may also arise – especially since EU online privacy laws are a lot more strict than U.S. online privacy laws.

Abrahams copped to the crime instead of enduring a trial. He “admitted to infecting people’s computers with malware” – a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He also conceded to “watching women change their clothes and using photographs against his victims.”

On March 19, 2014, Abrahams’ fate awaits him at his sentencing hearing. He could spend several years in the clink.

Sextortion Isn’t New, But Some Of The Methods Are

Analogue Sextortion

James Abrahams is not an anomaly. Sextortion is a prevalent pastime that has touched nearly every corner of the globe and every level of society. Though, it hasn’t always involved a digital component. For example:

  1. Several years ago, in Tanzania, authorities convicted a high school teacher who demanded sexual favors for grades.
  2. In 2010, a Canadian judge handed a government adjudicator an 18-month sentence for extorting sex from a refugee looking for asylum.
  3. Chinese Communist Party official Lei Zhengfu lost his job after a video called “Lei, the secretary who accepts sex bribes”went live on Sina Weibo, that country’s most popular social media site. And yes, as the title suggests, he was convicted for doling out government favors for sexual labors.

Digital Sextortion

In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of hacking- and social media-related sextortion scandals. To illustrate:

  1. Celebrity phone hacker, Christopher Chaney, got 10 years in federal prison for hacking the phones of Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera and Scarlett Johansson.
  2. A teenager in Wisconsin got a 15-year prison sentence for posing as a girl on Facebook, then using the account to convince boys to send him nude pics, which he then used to extort homosexual sex.

Judges Ban Together To Educate Law Enforcement and Lawmakers On Sextortion

Sextortion is so prevalent that the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), in conjunction with the Association of Women Judges in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Philippine Women Judges Association, and the Tanzania Women Judges Association launched a three-year program called, “Stopping the Abuse of Power through Sexual Exploitation: Naming, Shaming, and Ending Sextortion.” The Netherlandian government was kind enough to foot the bill for the cross-border legal awareness project.

Activist Blogger Sued For Defamation By Big Wig

blogger sued for defamation
Blogger sued for defamation by big-time businessman. What will probably happen in this case?

Blogger Sued For Defamation Over Huffington Post Article

Mike Stark, a progressive blogger and activist, doesn’t think much of Robert Murray, of the Murray Energy Corporation. This past September, Stark wrote a Huffington Post article about Murray. Let’s just say it wasn’t what you’d call flattering.

After publication, the usual partisan battle ensued between the two would-be pundits: Greedy Billionaire Fascist! Intolerable Hypocritical Socialist! Yada, yada, yada…then, a libel lawsuit. Murray decided to sue Stark.

Paraphrase: “Call Me An Extremist, And I’ll Sue Your Blogging Butt For Defamation”

In the claim, Murray outlined his gripes with Mike Stark’s article. The outspoken businessman took particular umbrage with the use of the word “extremist,” insisting that Huffington Post readers would interpret the label as an “assertion of fact, not opinion.”

Enter The ACLU, Sometimes Defender Of Sued Bloggers

Upon hearing of the case, The American Civil Liberties Union and David Halperin, Esq. decided to represent Stark. On their client’s behalf, the attorneys filed a dismissal motion on November 1.

Their argument was straightforward: Stark didn’t defame; he was exercising his free speech rights as a journalist. The motion also argues that since Stark’s piece concerned “public policy issues relating to Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli” it shouldn’t be deemed defamatory, but instead fair comment on political activity.

The defense team punctuated their argument with a reminder: “The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly protected speech that a reasonable reader would recognize as spirited argument or opinion, rather than assertions of fact.”

Do You Want To Speak To A Lawyer Who Deals With Blogger Libel? We Can Help You Sue A Blogger Or Defend A Blogger Sued For Defamation.

We don’t see this case going the distance. It seems more of a public relations litigation move than a viable defamation lawsuit — but hey, you never know.

Are you curious if you have a solid defamation case or not? Get in touch with defamation attorney Aaron Kelly for a consultation.

Celebrity Defamation Case: Cruise v. Bauer

You undoubtedly heard by now: Tom Cruise’s celebrity defamation lawsuit against Bauer Publishing is causing the star some major flack. At this point, the peanut gallery is screaming: “He shouldn’t have sued! This defamation lawsuit is only making him look worse!”

Celebrity Defamation Case Hits The Headlines: Tom Cruise After Bauer For Libel

Remember when Tom Cruise sued Bauer Publishing, the gossip-mongers behind Life & Style and In Touch magazines? You might not; it happened a while ago. To refresh your memory, Cruise sued the media conglomerate over a pair of articles about him and his daughter, Suri, which featured variations of the word “abandoned” in each headline.

Lawyers Litigation Lasts A Long A$$ Time, Thanks To Celebrity Nature

Regardless of your memory of the case, suffice it to say that lawyers are still slogging away, and newly leaked documents are making the online rounds. The latest: Cruise avers he did not “cut Suri out of [his] life – whether physically, emotionally, financially or otherwise.” He also contends that he spoke to his daughter nearly every day during the period in question, in addition to getting frequent updates from her caretakers and mother.

Leaked Libel Deposition Raises Eyebrows & Once Again Shines Xenu-Loving Spotlight On Cruise

He also made some vague but unfortunate comparisons between acting and soldiering in Afghanistan. Oh, and he and his legal crew are making vague (and side-eye inviting) correlations between Holocaust victims and Scientologists. So what has this war against gossips done for Cruise’s public image? People are starting to remember why they fell out of favor with the Xenu-believing actor in 2005.

An interesting facet of this celebrity defamation suit is that Bauer is not backing down. In fact, the gossip mother-ship handed over documentation that supposedly proved a confidential source spilled the beans on Cruise — but the documents don’t exactly make the magazine look good. Make no mistake, the lawsuit has made bare the tenuous nature of celebrity gossip. That said, the publishers decided to risk their own humiliation just to go head-to-head with one of the more notoriously litigious public figures in the world.

But Bert Fields is on the case! Super powers, activate!

It will be interesting to see how this one turns out. I thought it would have been settled by now. But the fact that it has not means lots of juicy celebrity defamation gossip is ahead!

Revenge Porn Legal Primer: Laws & Legalities

Let's talk about the ins-and-outs of revenge porn legalities.
Let’s talk about the ins-and-outs of revenge porn legalities.

Welcome to the world of revenge porn – where scorned ex-lovers (and general jerks) publicly “sl*t shame” former paramours by posting prurient pictures online. To add opportunity to injury, a profitable revenge porn website industry has emerged. Not only do sites provide a platform for the offending material, but  they also charge revenge porn victims a hefty sum to remove media (think $5,000 in some cases). The worst part: paying the fee doesn’t guarantee it won’t pop up elsewhere once its removed from one site.

And believe it or not, revenge porn is perfectly legal in most jurisdictions. That said, victims are coming up with novel and effective ways to sue in civil court using various DMCA, defamation and false light invasion of privacy laws. Still, no nationwide law exists to combat revenge porn on a federal level. States, like Florida, have tried to pass revenge porn laws, but ultimately failed due to free speech concerns. However, some states are still trying to craft revenge porn laws that will protect peoples’ privacy without stomping on free speech toes.

State Revenge Porn Laws

Revenge porn reformers are largely seeking laws on the state level. Why? Because when it comes to Internet laws, the federal government is shockingly slow. Take, for example, federal politicians’ inability to pass a universal online privacy law – politicians have been trying for 15 years and have yet to get something passed.

California’s Ban on Revenge Porn

In October 2013, California became the second state to enact legislation banning revenge porn. The law specifically prohibits people from posting nude photos and videos of another person without their consent. Intent to cause distress or psychological harm must also be present to win a claim. Violating the new law is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

Maryland’s Anti-Revenge Porn Bill Proposition

In Maryland, state representative Jon Cardin introduced a revenge porn bill. Cardin cited a study in which 50 percent of respondents said they had sent nude or sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves to someone they knew. About 10 percent of those surveyed had received a threat from a former romantic partner to distribute the images publicly. Under Cardin’s law, if passed, distributing revenge porn would be a felony in Maryland punishable by a $25,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

New York’s Anti-Revenge Porn Law Proposal

New York is also in the process of drafting a revenge porn bill. The punishment for posting or distributing sexually explicit images of someone without their consent would be a fine of up to $30,000. It would also be considered a class A misdemeanor. However, the representatives sponsoring the bill, Joe Griffo and Phil Boyle, specifically want to expand the law to criminalize the distribution of images that were taken by the person in the photos or videos. This is a departure from California’s law, which only punishes people who distribute photos or videos they took themselves.

Shortcomings of Revenge Porn Laws

The American Civil Liberties Union originally opposed the California revenge porn law, not because the organization condones the practice, but because it has concerns that the law unintentionally chills free speech. When lawmakers narrowed the scope of the bill, however, the ACLU withdrew its objection. Under the new version, intent is a test element, and actions must have a verifiable adverse effect on the victim in order for a conviction.

Although passing the law was a positive step, some critics are concerned it doesn’t go far enough in securing justice for revenge porn victims. Why? Because establishing the intent to harm is difficult, and victims who wish to press charges may be required to submit psychiatric records to prove “emotional distress” – the act of which is arguably another invasion of privacy.

The California law only punishes people who distribute photos they, themselves, took of a person. While passing the law could help many people seek justice, the reality is that 80 percent of revenge porn cases involve media that the person in the images took themselves. So under California’s new law, these people still have no legal recourse.

Revenge porn is a fairly new phenomenon that encapsulates the theoretical difficulties associated with online privacy laws. Basically, if they want revenge porn laws, legislators will have to find a way that doesn’t encroach on free speech rights.

Google Privacy Updates 2013: The Basics

Google Privacy Policy

What is the New Google Privacy Policy?

October 11, 2013, Google unveiled their new privacy policy, which now has a feature called “Shared Endorsements” that states Google has permission to leverage users’ social activity to enhance online ads.

Google’s new policy means it can use names and profile pictures in ads throughout its vast empire. Google will incorporate user feedback about products and services (star ratings, reviews and Google +1s, etc.), and the ads will feature images of people who used a given product or feature. In addition, any relevant Google Plus “endorsements” of anybody you are connected with in Google + will be seen in search results. For example, in the crudest terms, if Jack and Jill are Google + friends, and Jill “pluses” a particular brand of pail, Jack will see Jill’s pail “plus” if he does a search for “best pail.”

The policy goes into effect on November 11, giving Google users one month to opt out of the Shared Endorsements feature. At the very least, Google did earn points by announcing the policy change well in advance of implementation. Facebook, one the other hand, recently neglected to give users a warning about updates to its privacy policy.

How Does Google’s Shared Endorsements Feature Affect Users?

The Shared Endorsements feature is perhaps not as evil as it could be. Google delivered a rundown of the new policy in clear, legalese-free language to its users, in which it stated that:

  • Users’ social activity will only be shared with people whom they have friended on Google+.
  • User names and images will only be used in advertisements for “liked” companies, services and websites, but never for products and services on which you never used the +1 feature.
  • Users can always opt out and were given one month to do so.
  • The information of users under age 18 will not be shared in public, including in advertisements.

Users who do choose to turn off the Shared Endorsements feature, including users under 18, can still see the user names and pictures of their friends in search engine results and advertisements. Opting out of Shared Endorsements will not affect how their names and photos are used in the Google Play store for apps, music and videos that they have liked. Opting out affects how information is used in ads.

Internet privacy rights advocates worry about what the new privacy policy could mean for future policy changes. Users have spent years using the company’s social features to like and share items without the threat of this information being used for nefarious purposes. Google+ was presented to users as an evil-free alternative to Facebook, with its targeted advertisements and privacy policy updates shrouded in mystery and implemented under cover of darkness.