Law around non-consensual taking, making and sharing of sexual images to be reviewed

June 26, 2019

Laws around the making and sharing of non-consensual intimate images are to be reviewed by the Law Commission under plans that aim to ensure protections keep pace with emerging technology.

The Law Commission has been asked by the government to examine whether current legislation is fit to tackle new and evolving types of abusive and offensive communications, including image-based abuse, amid concerns it has become easier to create and distribute sexual images of people online without their permission.

The review will consider a range of digital trends such as ‘cyber-flashing’ – when people receive unsolicited sexual images of someone over the phone – and ‘deepfake’ pornography – the practice of superimposing an individual’s face onto pornographic photos or videos without consent.

The move builds on government action in recent years to better protect victims and bring more offenders to justice, including making ‘upskirting’ and ‘revenge porn’ specific criminal offences.

The review will also consider the case for granting automatic anonymity to revenge porn victims, so they cannot be named publicly, as is the case for victims of sexual offences.

The government says that dealing with sexual offences is a priority, and in many cases this behaviour will already be caught by a number of existing offences such as ‘voyeurism’ under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. However, the statement says that ministers are committed to ensuring the right protections are in place for the modern age, and alongside the review, a public consultation will be launched on strengthening the law.

This review is part of joint work between the Ministry of Justice and Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport and Government Equalities Office to consider reform of communications offences, examining the glorification of violent crime and the encouragement of self-harm online, and whether co-ordinated harassment by groups of people online could be more effectively addressed by the criminal law.

The terms of reference for the review will be published on the Law Commission’s website. The review will commence on 1 July 2019 and report back in the summer of 2021. The Law Commission published Phase 1 of their review of Abusive and Offensive Online Communications on 1 November 2018. The Law Commission will now conduct Phase 2 of this report, assessing the law on offensive and abusive online communications, including the non-consensual taking and sharing of intimate images specifically. The Law Commission is also carrying out a related review into hate crime.