Fail: Illinois cracks down on sexting, applies law to all nude images

Despite moves in Vermont to decriminalize sexting among teens, Illinois has gone in the other direction and passed a law that specifically make passing on mobile pictures illegal.

House Bill 2537 makes it a criminal offense to sell or distribute a videotape or nude image of another person without written consent and with the intent to damage a person’s reputation. The bill also makes uploading such images to the Internet a violation of this act. The measure states that a violation of this act a Class A misdemeanor worth up to 364 days in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Yeah, because what kids need on top of a child porn charge is another 12 months in jail.

Despite this being promoted as a bill to save teenagers from sexting, take a close look at the wording: it’s not a bill targeted at sexting teenagers, but everyone: “a videotape or nude image of another person.” Lets say Paris Hilton walks out of a Chicago nightclub drunk, and her top falls down while she’s on the street. The images you take of her would couldn’t be used elsewhere without her permission, and publishing them would damage her reputation. If you were at a frat party, and some drunk girls got naked and you took video on your phone: you can’t use them without written permission from the girls, and they most definitely would tarnish their reputation (so the written permission may be a moot point anyway.)

The original bill would have also made anyone distributing the image or video liable as well, for example five people down the chain you receive it, then forward it on, therefore your action is illegal as well, unless of course you traced the picture and got written permission. A small amount of sanity prevailed when the bill hit the Illinois Senate, who added in two sections “This prohibition applies only to the initial dissemination of the video recording, and shall not apply to any subsequent dissemination, storage, or viewing of that image.” They also tried to cover their bases by inserting a reference to free speech: “Any depiction of a nude image that would be protected as free speech under either the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Article I, Section 4 of the Illinois Constitution.” The problem then becomes one of interpretation: is taking a picture of Paris Hilton naked and drunk protected by free speech, or is that frat party video protected?

The ACLU and other organizations are going to have a field day with this legislation. The application to all is heavy on fail, but the biggest fail is this continued push to criminalize children. If we concede that sexting is a problem (and many would argue that it’s a media beet up and not a serious problem) how is turning teenagers into criminals and sending them to jail going to solve the problem? Vermont understands that the big stick approach shouldn’t be applied, it’s just a shame that most other US States don’t yet.