published Friday, March 14th, 2014

Revenge porn bill sent to Georgia governor

Posting another person's naked pictures online is a signature away from becoming illegal in Georgia, though some experts say the new law is flawed.

State representatives voted 161-3 to approve the "revenge porn" bill Wednesday, two days after members of the Georgia Senate unanimously approved the bill.

After the legislative session closes next Thursday, Gov. Nathan Deal will have 40 days to review the bill and decide whether to sign it into law.

Revenge porn has been an issue lawmakers across the nation have tried to tackle this year.

Not including Georgia, legislators in at least 22 states have proposed bills to ban uploading other people's naked pictures online, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But legal scholars say some of these bills are poorly written, and that includes the Georgia bill.

Mary Anne Franks, a University of Miami law professor and revenge porn expert, sent the bill's sponsor, Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, an email on March 3 advising him about some parts of the bill Franks felt needed to be changed.

In response to a question from Tanner, Franks advised the representative to add a "public interest" exception to his bill. As it is written, Franks said, someone could get arrested for sharing information that the public has a right to know -- like Sydney Leathers, who last year exposed naked pictures that New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner had sent her.

Tanner did not add a "public interest" exception to the bill.

Also in the email, Franks told Tanner that the bill is too specific about what constitutes revenge porn. If this becomes a law, someone will be guilty only if he or she has uploaded the naked pictures as "harassment."

But, Franks said, "harassment" is open to interpretation. Some courts have ruled that you only harass someone if you send that person his or her own naked pictures.

In February, a judge interpreted the law that way when he dismissed charges against a Brooklyn man who posted his girlfriend's naked pictures on Twitter and sent them to her sister and boss -- but not to the actual girl.

Tanner did not remove the word "harassment" from the bill.

Franks also advised Tanner to make the bill's definition of "nudity" more specific. For example, the police will be able to arrest people for uploading pictures of women's breasts, but the bill does not say whether that means the entire breast. Franks said a picture of a woman showing cleavage may be interpreted as revenge porn.

Tanner did not change that part of the bill, either.

"On behalf of victims," Franks wrote in the email, "please consider how these multiple loopholes ... undermine this statute."

Tanner, however, said he consulted with Georgia's legislative counsel and did not believe those issues needed to be changed in the bill. Even with the bill's definition of nudity, he said, people will not be prosecuted for posting pictures that contain cleavage.

He also said the bill does not need a specific "public interest" exception and that someone like Sydney Leathers would not be prosecuted under it.

"The legislative counsel who drafts these bills and our folks here feel like that is covered and a prosecutor under certain cases could not bring criminal action," he said. "[The legislative counsel] felt like that was covered and that we were on good constitutional ground."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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