It’s illegal to flash your genitals at strangers in public, but not to send unsolicited nudes via text, app, email, or social media. This is a situation the New York City Council seeks to rectify. To that end, a bill introduced last week by Councilman Joseph Borelli—which Wired has dubbed “NYC’s Anti-Airdrop Dick Pic Law“—would prohibit “unsolicited disclosures of intimate images.”
Under Borrelli’s measure, it would be a misdemeanor offense “to send an unsolicited sexually explicit video or image to another person with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm such other person,” punishable by up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine. Sexually explicit means anything showing “genitals, pubic area or anus of any person.”
The problems with Borrelli’s plan—which already has four co-sponsosrs—are myriad.
First, let’s consider what new conduct it’s actually criminalizing. It’s already illegal for adults to send sexually explicit images to minors, so that’s no excuse for this bill. Likewise, it’s already illegal in New York to harass someone, stalk them, or threaten them. So sending sexually explicit images “with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm” could already be prosecuted under another statute, provided there actually is evidence of harassing or threatening intent.
What that leaves us with is basically a way for anyone to press charges against anyone who sends them a sexualized image. Who here thinks this would only be used for instances of legitimate harassment and harm?
The measure would provide plenty of opportunity for jilted lovers to get even with criminal charges. If an intimate image exists, how would a police officer know whether it was sent with intent to “annoy”? Cases that don’t meet the criteria for punishment could still lead to a lot of hassle for those targeted.
The opportunity is also ripe for abuse against sex workers who advertise online, whether by those who enjoy harassing them for sport (as with last week’s so-called ThotAudit), by customers who feel slighted, or by law enforcement.
Wired positions the proposed law as a matter of “cyber flashing”: “a type of digital harassment where creeps use Apple’s AirDrop feature to send dick pics and other lewd images straight to the home screens of unsuspecting strangers via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi,” as writer Issie Lapowsky tells us.
But it’s incredibly hard to trace AirDrop-style messages sent in public. “The lack of attribution artifacts at this time (additional research pending) is going to make it very difficult to attribute AirDrop misuse,” writes digital forensics analyst Sarah Edwards in a blog post.
Additionally, the proposed NYC law wouldn’t limit charges to dick-pic AirDroppers and sext-happy strangers. It would create a broad and wide-reaching new crime.
Lapowsky notes that a law like this “could have a ripple effect on tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as dating apps like Tinder where these types of unsolicited images are rampant. Right now, the only repercussion for sending or posting nudity on those platforms is getting the content or the account banned. With the law on its side, NYPD could issue subpoenas and other court orders that force these platforms to hand over information about the account holders, just as they do for other crimes and national security issues.”
Nevermind that people can turn off the ability for strangers to AirDrop them photos, prevent people from sending unsolicited messages on social media, and block and report to social platforms those who send such messages. In the minds of the regulate-and-incarcerate crowd, it is much better to treat unsolicited butt or genital sightings with the same intensity as we do matters of national security.