In the wake of the hacking scandal that's led to naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and other celebrities getting posted to sites such as 4chan and Reddit, there are already calls to shut down or increase legal penalties against websites and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Even before this latest flap, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) earlier this year pushed and a bill against "revenge porn" that would have stripped ISPs and websites of legal immunity they currently have.
In a new column at Time, I argue that new prohibitions aren't needed and will likely be effective only in shutting down the free flow of information on the Internet. Snippets:
Such reactions are as understandable as they are ultimately misguided. There's something deeply disturbing about people's most intimate information being hacked and distributed across the globe. But most remedies threaten not bad behavior as much as the very openness of expression the Internet makes possible….
The problem with [federal and state] legislation [aimed at unauthorized intimate images] is that it doesn't just criminalize the posting of images whose meanings and intentions are rarely as clear-cut as prosecutors want to believe. It also has the potential to massively chill free speech by gulling ISPs and websites into either pulling down totally legal material when faced with any sort of complaint, but also proactively policing free expression. Individuals, too, will also feel the chill as they wonder exactly what sort of material may land them in court.
As Lee Rowland of the ACLU told one of my colleagues at Reason TV earlier this year, "Criminal law is such a blunt instrument that we have real doubts that it's possible to draft these laws in a way that won't end up criminalizing pure speech."
Earlier this year, Reason TV asked "Should Revenge Porn Be a Crime?":