Sacramento, California - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced a package of bills that will increase protections for victims and provide tools for law enforcement to prosecute the growing number of cyber-exploitation cases in California.
Cyber-exploitation, commonly known as revenge porn, is defined as the non-consensual distribution and publication of intimate photos and videos. The poster sometimes obtains the photos or videos during a prior relationship, or steals them by hacking into the victim’s phone, computer, or social media accounts.
“Cyber-exploitation is a heinous crime that humiliates and degrades victims, while creating devastating effects on their personal and professional lives,” said Attorney General Harris. “This legislation will provide law enforcement with tools to prosecute these crimes, and provide critical support to victims suffering from the debilitating impacts.”
Senate Bill 676 (Cannella, R-Ceres) would classify the intentional distribution of personal identifying information associated with the image of an intimate body part, obtained without the consent of the person depicted, as a new crime under Penal Code 647. Additionally, SB 676 would expand the forfeiture provision for possession of child pornography to include the forfeiture of cyber-exploitation images, allowing law enforcement to remove these images from unauthorized possession.
"Several years ago, it was brought to my attention that countless lives were being destroyed because another person they trusted distributed compromising photos of them online. As a result, I created legislation that makes this activity illegal," said Cannella. "I quickly realized, however, there was much more to be done. As technology evolves, unfortunately, so does the rate of these cyber-crimes – increasing the number of victims impacted. And while I wish these types of crimes didn’t exist, SB 676 and AB 1310 will provide even more protection to victims."
Assembly Bill 1310 (Gatto, D-Glendale) would amend Penal Code 1524 to allow search warrants to be issued for crimes related to cyber-exploitation. Amending this statute will give law enforcement the ability to search electronic databases and retrieve the victims’ images. AB 1310 will also allow for the prosecution of cyber-exploitation cases in the county where the victim resides or in the county where the images was posted. Since posters and website operators commonly reside outside of the victim’s jurisdiction, this change in the law will relieve some of the burden placed on the victim during the prosecution of the case.
“AB 1310 will make it more difficult for criminals to escape prosecution by allowing district attorneys and law enforcement to investigate and prosecute those who exploit their victims across multiple jurisdictions,” said Gatto.
In 2011, Attorney General Harris created the eCrime Unit to identify and prosecute identity theft crimes, cybercrimes and other crimes involving the use of technology. In February, a jury in San Diego County found Kevin Bollaert, the operator of a cyber-exploitation website, guilty of 6 counts of extortion and 21 counts of identity theft. He is currently awaiting sentencing. This was the first criminal prosecution of a cyber-exploitation website operator in the nation.
In February 2014, Attorney General Harris announced the arrest of Casey E. Meyering, 28, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who operated the website WinByState.com. He is charged with 5 felony extortion counts and is currently awaiting trial in Napa County. Both cases arose from investigations by the California Attorney General’s eCrime unit.