The Humanities Department on JWU's Providence campus held its sixth annual Law and Technology Symposium and attracted a full audience with a new and engaging topic: Revenge Porn: Who Controls the Publication of Intimate/Graphic Photographs? This year’s symposium was led by Guy Bissonnette, a humanities professor at the University who hooked the audience immediately by sharing that one in 25 Americans are victims of revenge porn, or the unauthorized disclosure of personal and graphic images. The event also consisted of two very knowledgeable and well-involved speakers.
The first speaker was Robert Ellis Smith, a journalist and attorney as well as the leading publisher for The Privacy Journal. This journal covers issues relating to the topic of privacy in the computer age, and made Smith well prepared for the topic. He started off his argument with a key question: how would you feel if your portrait or address ended up on a pornography website? He says that in today’s world, this is a lot more common than one might think.
The second speaker was Rhode Island General Assembly member Jason Knight. In the past, Knight worked as a US Navy Nuclear Power Operator as well as a special attorney general for RI. Currently he is a co-sponsor on House Bill H5304, the current Revenge Porn Bill. The Revenge Porn Bill will attempt to help stop unconsented distribution of graphic images. Last Thursday, the bill was voted on and passed 72 to 2. Soon, it will be brought forth to senate and if passed there, will eventually end up on the governor’s desk.
The discussion consisted of Bissonnette asking the speakers everything from the extent of what intent can mean to why the timing of the bill is the way it is. It became particularly lively in the Pepsi Forum when the discussion was opened up to the audience. One of the Professors asked a question that sparked a very interesting debate.
“You’ve got these concerns about the question of the intent, the legitimate purpose, why isn’t the lack of permission by the subject of the image the primary concern? Why isn’t consent the sole issue?” After listening to the two speakers go back and forth, ultimately this is what it came down to:
Smith stated that lack of consent will diminish respect for the victim. Knight also explained that if the bill contained consent, it could run into huge problems with the first amendment. Furthermore, consent will not be as valid in a court as looking at how the graphic images were transmitted.
Keep an eye out as this bill continues to develop and may become a large piece of Rhode Island’s Court of Law.
Ultimately, this symposium sparked a very interesting debate, at a level of intellect that our professors wish they could get in their classrooms. As a large majority of Arts and Sciences majors are in some way connected with social media, Knight left us with something very interesting to keep in mind in terms of the growth of technology in general when he said, “It’s the battle of its own future.”