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Australian law would bring big fines for ‘revenge porn’ and faster action to remove images

AFP-JIJI

Australian legislation against “revenge porn” that was introduced Wednesday could fine social media networks more than 500,000 Australian dollars ($380,000) and also bring hefty punishment to individuals distributing such images without consent.

It follows a survey this year that revealed abuses, including shooting and sharing intimate images without permission, was happening on a “mass scale.”

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said he hoped the fines would be a deterrent.

“Civil penalties will make people stop and think before distributing intimate images without consent — whether that’s an ex-partner of a victim seeking revenge, an acquaintance or complete stranger being malicious,” he said.

A civil penalty is imposed by a government agency rather than a court, addressing concerns of victims who do not pursue criminal charges because of lengthy and expensive court processes.

Perpetrators could still face criminal prosecution, but victims can choose to instead report the offense to the government’s eSafety Commissioner’s office, with no police involvement.

Individuals face fines of up to AU$105,000. Content hosts like Facebook run the risk of penalties up to AU$525,000.

Generally, under the civil penalty regime the state must only prove “clear and convincing evidence” rather than the more cumbersome “burden of proof” in the criminal system.

Minister for Women Michaelia Cash said the draft legislation introduced to Parliament would ensure victims get faster action to remove images.

“When someone has intimate images shared online without their consent, their main concern is to ensure they are taken down as soon as possible, and our legislation enables that,” she said.

“Image-based abuse is often a method used to intimidate and harass women. It is a growing problem, and we are taking strong action to let perpetrators know we will not tolerate it.”

Australia is among world leaders in efforts to combat revenge porn and this year launched an online portal allowing victims to report cases where their photos have been shared on the internet without consent.

The eSafety Commissioner’s office then works with websites and search engines to have them removed.

A government-funded national study of more than 4,200 people this year revealed 1 in 5 Australians have had intimate photographs taken without their consent, and then confronted threats to share them on social networks.

It found that men and women were equally likely to be targeted.