“Digital Sexual Assault”: The Legal Discrepancy of Private Photo Leaks

For my neglected news topic story I chose the NPR Podcast “Don’t Blame the Naked Celebrities” featuring Alex Goldman and Forbes reporter Kashmir Hill which discusses the mass celebrity photo leaks that occurred a couple months ago. While the story of the leaked photos was featured on major news sources, this podcast goes beyond and dives into a bigger issue that has remained ignored: how to prevent these leaks from occurring again and who to blame for the privacy violations. Hill has covered multiple stories like this, but over time her view has changed. Originally she blamed the celebrities for having nude photos of themselves on their computers and phones, but as it has happened time and time again she is starting to shift the blame towards three factors: our culture, the technology companies, and the legal system.

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In regard to culture, Hill preaches for a shift in culture to change their views on inappropriate leaked photos. She says that society, like herself originally, initially would place the blame on the celebrities for sharing these photos. However, in a shift that Hill says she has already started to see, social mores are being created that are now changing cultural attitudes towards these photos. People now see the photos as a violation of someone’s privacy, and instead of the actual photos being shared the story of these leaks is shared with the tone of how the celebrity was victimized.For technology companies, Hill believes that there needs to be greater privacy software for photos. She wishes that there was an “privacy browser” for photos, meaning that there was a place people could take private photos and store them that was not backed up on a computer or on a cloud. Finally, Hill discusses the legal issue that keeps allowing these photo leaks to happen. After discussing with FBI agents who investigate these crimes, Hill believes that in order to truly punish these photo leaks the crime itself has to change from “a violation of privacy” to a “digital sexual assault”.

I chose this news story after reading so many interesting blog posts last week that focussed on the topic of privacy. What I found most interesting about this story was that according to Hill, violating privacy has become so common place that it is no longer enough of a crime to punish people on. As people create greater (and often more intimate) online presences, they are already losing their privacy and so it is no surprise when sometimes private information is leaked. Now as a response, a push for the creation of the punishments that mirror real-life crimes is happening. As Hill discusses, illegally taking and sharing content that shows a person’s body could be seen in the future as an attack on a person and/or their sexuality. What do you think? As people become more transparent online can violations of their online presences be equated with real-life crimes?


6 responses to ““Digital Sexual Assault”: The Legal Discrepancy of Private Photo Leaks

  1. This is a very interesting blog. I like the story you brought to our attention, and I think it will continue to be very relevant in society. The term “digital sexual assault” has potential to be a huge problem. As true sexual assault becomes an increasing issue in society, and college campuses especially, I imagine that digital sexual assault is right around the corner from being the next biggest issue. With the advancement of technology and hacking, I wonder if security to protect individuals’ photos and data is increasing as rapidly as the hackers are?


  2. I agree, very interesting thing to write about. Celebrities in the US have a massive sway on culture and society wants to hold them to standards, but the question has become, what are the standards? Also, is it right for any one individuals inappropriate actions to be publicized more than others? Apparently so if they make it valuable,it will be difficult to protect their privacy specifically much like an elected official.


    • Speaking of celebrity sway, I think another interesting point from this podcast was the celebrity influence on the increase of sexting and inappropriate content transferring. Hill talked about how of celebrities taking and sending inappropriate photos has led to common people copying this activity and doing it themselves, making photo leaks a more common problem in all parts of society and possibly even more so in the future.


      • That’s a interesting point. Especially because these photos were “leaked” there is a taboo around sending nude photographs and not getting caught that may cause a spike in minors sexting. A family friend of mine was actually prosecuted recently for distribution of child pornography (she’s 17 now). She had sent a nude photo of herself to someone when she was 15 and while it circulated within the school, but it never leaked to the wider public. There was no police involvement. A few months ago someone reposted this photo to the app Blushhh and she is now being prosecuted years after she originally posted it, now as an adult.


  3. I really enjoyed this post, as it focused on a more serious side of an issue that has been broadly publicized. I think that the concept of “digital sexual assault” is absolutely relevant and has been prevalent for much longer than we can imagine. As we move towards a more and more tech-dependent world, digital crimes need to be dealt with more seriously. As hackers become more skilled, our legal system must step up to the plate to fairly deal with the consequences.


  4. I can imagine Fox news having a field day with “digital sexual assault” by arguing the real problem is people’s individual morals and how debauched they are and have become.


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