CRIME

Revenge Porn King Going to Prison for Something Besides Revenge Porn

Nope, it isn't for creating the world's most notorious revenge porn website

Dec 03, 2015 at 6:32 PM ET

Hunter Moore was sentenced yesterday to 30 months in prison—but the notorious revenge porn site operator is not getting locked up for the reasons you might think.

Despite more than two dozen states in recent years introducing laws against revenge porn, Moore was instead convicted on identity theft and hacking charges. Earlier this year, Moore pled guilty to the charges, which stem from his paying co-defendant Charles Evens to hack email accounts in search of nude photos to post on his website isanyoneup.com. Notably absent were charges specifically addressing his operation of a wildly popular revenge porn outpost.

There have been some prosecutions under the new state revenge porn laws—for example, in 2014, California used its state law to send Noe Iniguez, who posted nude photos of his ex-girlfriend on her employer’s Facebook page, to jail for one year. But Carrie Goldberg, a Brooklyn-based lawyer specializing in revenge porn cases, told Vocativ, “States are still figuring out how to apply them,” she said. “But I think they have been effective in deterring the uploading and distribution.”

Even when these laws are used, they are typically used against individuals who post photos to revenge porn websites, not the website operators themselves. This is because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects website operators from being held legally responsible for third-party content, according to Goldberg. The same law that says Facebook isn’t responsible for comments that its users makes also holds that Moore isn’t responsible for photos that his visitors posted. As a result, revenge porn site operators have been effectively immune from prosecution, except in cases where there are accompanying crimes—like hacking or extortion.

Earlier this year, there was a dramatic example of this: Kevin Bollaert, who ran the revenge porn site UGotPosted.com, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on counts of identity theft and extortion. The identity theft charges stemmed from the site requiring that the users posting revenge porn to the site reveal victims’ identities and personal information, and the extortion charges arose from the fact that he also ran ChangeMyReputation.com, which charged hundreds of dollars to remove photos from his other site.

Mary Anne Franks, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law who specializes in revenge porn cases, argues that the problem with targeting revenge porn operators with accompanying crimes is that it doesn’t hold them accountable for the worst of their behavior. Moore, she said by email, “has faced no punishment for the most serious of his wrongful acts: the posting of private, intimate images without consent.”

Franks is currently trying to help change the limitations around revenge porn prosecutions by working with members of Congress to introduce a federal revenge porn law, but she says they have encountered pushback. “[I]t seems that some would-be sponsors are more worried about keeping the ACLU happy than about protecting sexual privacy,” she said. Indeed an ACLU lawyer had raised free speech concerns about such a federal law.

But Franks argues that the current options available to prosecutors are simply not enough: “Putting away revenge porn peddlers for things like hacking and extortion is like putting away Al Capone for tax evasion — better than nothing, but woefully inadequate.”