Actress Bella Thorne recently made headlines after her brave decision to post her own sensitive photos rather than succumb to the demands of hackers. Sadly her case isn’t unusual and raises a number of important questions regarding the current safeguards in place.
David Newman, Legal Adviser at DAS Law, explains your legal rights and offers advice if you ever find yourself being the subject of this type of unwanted attention.
What is my legal position if someone is threatening to publish ‘personal’ photos?
It is a criminal offence under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 to upload onto the internet intimate sexual images of a person, without the consent of the person who appears in them, intending to cause the person humiliation or embarrassment. The offence is punishable with a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment.
Who can I go to for help?
The police can act if you think that someone has published or is threatening to publish personal photos online. This would, however, depend on the evidence available. You can also contact the social media website etc to ask that they remove the content from their platform (see below).
What is the best way to remove unwanted photos online?
After contacting the police to report the matter, you would need to contact the owner of the website, called the webmaster, to ask for the images to be removed. If the image is hosted on several different websites, you may need to contact each webmaster.
Most social media sites allow you to report a user or inappropriate content directly. You can also try to have the image removed from search engines such as Google.
Is it a crime if ‘personal’ photos are being held ransom and should I pay to retrieve them?
Yes, it is. If someone is holding personal photos to ransom and demanding money for them not to be published, then this could constitute blackmail. Blackmail is a criminal offence under section 21(1) of the Theft Act 1968, and is punishable by a maximum of 14 years in prison, depending on the amount of money demanded and the psychological harm done or intended to the victim.
It is not recommended that you pay any money to the person – the police should be contacted immediately and they will be able to take any necessary steps.
Can I press charges against people who have released, or threatened to release my ‘personal’ photos?
Yes, it is possible for the police to bring charges. If the personal photos have been published, the police can press charges under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, mentioned above. If the person is threatening to release the photos unless you pay a sum of money, they could be charged with blackmail.
You could potentially bring a civil claim for harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 against the person if there is a threat of publishing the images that amounts to a course of conduct (at least two occasions) and that threat causes you to suffer alarm or distress as a result.
Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.