CCRI Press Releases

March 16, 2021: Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) Welcomes SHIELD Act Amendment to Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021

For Immediate Release: March 16, 2021

Contact:
Mary Anne Franks, J.D., D. Phil
President, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative
maryanne.franks@cybercivilrights.org

Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) Welcomes SHIELD Act Amendment to Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021

Coral Gables, FL: The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative welcomes the inclusion of the SHIELD Act as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021, providing urgently needed protection against an egregious form of cyber sexual abuse that disproportionately affects women and girls. As the nation’s leading nonprofit organization focused on the issue of nonconsensual pornography, CCRI thanks Rep. Jackie Speier, Rep. John Katko, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Ted Lieu, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, Rep. Stacey Plaskett, and Rep. Veronica Escobar for their bipartisan leadership in support of the SHIELD Act and for submitting the SHIELD Act as an amendment.

The SHIELD Act, originally introduced in 2019, is a bipartisan measure that addresses the devastating and often irreparable impact of the unauthorized disclosure of private, sexually explicit visual imagery. This impact includes loss of employment and educational opportunities, harassment, stalking, threats of sexual assault, deterioration of intimate and family relationships, and psychological trauma severe enough to lead many to contemplate, and some to lose their lives to, suicide. Nonconsensual pornography has proliferated in the digital age due to the ubiquitous presence of virtually undetectable recording devices, the instantaneous communication possibilities afforded by the Internet and social media, and increasingly common cyber attacks that allow hackers and abusers to access private information. Like other forms of domestic violence and sexual abuse, rates of cyber sexual abuse have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, for example, the CCRI Crisis Helpline logged a 38.39% increase in calls.

Women are almost twice as likely to be targeted for nonconsensual pornography and make up the majority of victims exploited on so-called “revenge porn” websites. Photos and videos of their most private moments, often created or obtained without their knowledge, are also distributed through social media, messaging applications, and emails. Not only is nonconsensual pornography a common form of intimate partner violence, but it also plays a role in sexual assault, sex trafficking, and sexual harassment. Domestic abusers threaten their partners with exposure to prevent them from leaving or reporting the abuse; rapists record their attacks for personal gratification and to further torment their victims; harassers use nonconsensual pornography to create hostile environments for female employees and students. In addition to the grave injury the abuse inflicts on individual victims, nonconsensual pornography also chills women’s and girls’ freedom of expression and deters their participation in professional, political, and civic life.

In the past few years, the majority of states have acted to address the growing epidemic of nonconsensual pornography. But variations across jurisdictions in the definition, classification, and remedies for this crime leaves victims at the mercy of a confusing patchwork of laws. In particular, many state laws against nonconsensual pornography only apply in cases where the perpetrator is motivated by a personal desire to hurt the victim. That means that perpetrators who are motivated by profit, voyeurism, a desire for social status, or any other reason can commit this abuse with impunity.

The SHIELD Act amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 closes that absurd loophole and provides a clear path to justice for victims of this destructive, often borderless, crime. Protecting the privacy and free expression rights of women and girls is an essential part of combating violence against women and achieving gender equality.

About CCRI:  CCRI’s mission is to combat online abuses that threaten civil rights and civil liberties. CCRI is the nation’s preeminent nonprofit organization working to protect vulnerable groups from threats such as nonconsensual pornography (NCP), sexual extortion, digitally manipulated audio-visual material (“deep fakes”), and other online abuses. CCRI provides model legislation, legal analysis, and amicus briefs on issues relating to privacy and free expression. CCRI has also provided support to over 7,000 victims of NCP through the CCRI Crisis Helpline. 

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August 21, 2020:  CCRI Welcomes Four Additions to Board of Directors and Advisory Committee 

For Immediate Release: August 21, 2020

Contact:
Mary Anne Franks, J.D., D. Phil
President, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative
maryanne.franks@cybercivilrights.org

The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative Welcomes Four New Additions to Board of Directors and Advisory Committee

Coral Gables, FL: The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) announced today the appointment of four new members to its Board of Directors and Advisory Committee, adding to an esteemed slate of experts in law, policy, and technology. 

New Director Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the Department of Information Studies where she serves as the Co-Director of the Center for Critical Internet Inquiry. She is the author of the 2018 book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press). Her academic research focuses on the design of digital media platforms on the internet and their impact on society. “The struggle for racial and economic justice is at the core of fighting for cyber civil rights,” says Dr. Noble. “If we are to realize the promise of a socially just society, it will only come through protecting the most vulnerable among us, and seeking remedies to harm. I’m proud to work with the CCRI to strengthen public policy in the interests of those who are victimized by digital technologies, and to create new possibilities for the future of the internet.”

New Director Dr. Hany Farid’s appointment to the Board deepens his support and involvement with CCRI, having previously served on the Advisory Committee. Dr. Farid is a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley with a joint appointment in Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences and the School of Information, where his research focuses on digital forensics, image analysis, and human perception. “There has never been a more important time to stand up for civil rights and liberties,” says Dr. Farid. “I am proud and honored to join the CCRI board and to join them in the fight for a more righteous and just world, both online and offline.”

New CCRI Advisor Dr. Jon Penney is a legal scholar and social scientist currently exploring how cyberharassment and intimate privacy protections can empower the online speech and engagement of victims, as well as working on a forthcoming book on the impact of surveillance, legal automation, and other digital/technological threats. He holds affiliations and research positions with Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, Harvard Law, University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and Cornell University’s Department of Communications. “The CCRI does such incredibly important work in combating online abuse and helping its victims–and in doing so, promoting and defending everyone’s civil rights and liberties, online and off. So, it is really and truly an honor to join the Advisory Committee, and I very much look forward to supporting, advising, and contributing to, its invaluable mission and work,” says Dr. Penney.

New Advisor Dr. Olivier Sylvain is a Professor of Law at Fordham University, where his research focuses on artificial intelligence in communications, social media liability under civil rights laws, and data protection. “I am thrilled to join CCRI’s Advisory Committee. I have long admired the organization’s steadfast support and advocacy of victims of online harassment and nonconsensual pornography,” Dr. Sylvain said. “I am particularly honored to join ranks in this formal way with Professor Mary Anne Franks, whose unflinching diagnosis of free speech doctrine and norms in the U.S. is an inspiration. Her advocacy for law reform, along with the groundbreaking work of CCRI Vice President and Board Member Professor Danielle Citron, has guided my own research and writing on the ways in which current law motivates powerful online intermediaries to entrench extant racial disparities.” 

Dr. Farid and Dr. Noble join existing Board members Dr. Holly Jacobs, founder of CCRI; Dr. Mary Anne Franks, Professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law; Danielle Keats Citron, Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law and 2019 recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award; Dr. Ari Ezra Waldman, Professor of Law at Northeastern University; and Jason Walta, Deputy General Counsel at the National Education Association (NEA). 

Dr. Penney and Dr. Sylvain join existing Advisory Committee member Carrie Goldberg, a leading internet privacy and sexual assault attorney and Founder of C.A. Goldberg, PLLC. 

The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative was founded in 2013 by Dr. Holly Jacobs to use law, policy, and technology to help victims of nonconsensual pornography (also known as “revenge porn”) and other online harms. With the addition of these new members, CCRI will continue its cutting-edge efforts to fight technological abuses that threaten the civil rights and liberties of vulnerable groups.

About CCRI:  CCRI’s mission is to combat online abuses that threaten civil rights and civil liberties. CCRI is one of the nation’s preeminent nonprofits working to protect vulnerable groups from threats such as nonconsensual pornography (NCP), sexual extortion, digitally manipulated audio-visual material (“deep fakes”), and other online abuses. CCRI provides testimony, legal analysis, and amicus briefs on issues relating to online privacy and free expression. CCRI has also provided support to over 7,000 victims of NCP through the CCRI Crisis Helpline. 

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July 30, 2020: CCRI Granted Sub-award from NSF to Study Cyber Sexual Violence During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

For Immediate Release: July 30, 2020

Contact:
Mary Anne Franks, J.D., D. Phil
President, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative
maryanne.franks@cybercivilrights.org

Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) Granted Sub-award from the National Science Foundation to Study Cyber Sexual Violence During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Coral Gables, FL: The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative is delighted to announce that it has received a sub-award from the National Science Foundation to study how the shift to online communication during the COVID-19 pandemic may have facilitated an increase in cyber sexual violence, including nonconsensual pornography (also known as “revenge porn”), cyber harassment, and sexual extortion. The project will be led by CCRI President Dr. Mary Anne Franks (University of Miami School of Law) and CCRI Head of Research Dr. Asia Eaton (Florida International University).

The project, “COVID-19 and sexual cyberviolence: Impact on general users and vulnerable populations,” was conceived by Dr. Franks and CCRI executive staff  in response to the NSF’s April 2020 Dear Colleague Letter on COVID-19, which encouraged researchers to submit proposals focused on understanding and addressing the impact of the pandemic through NSF’s Rapid Response Research mechanism. The grant was awarded on July 27, 2020.

As Franks wrote in CCRI’s Letter of Intent, the COVID-19 pandemic “has necessitated a massive shift to web-based communication, which has meant that millions of Americans can work, attend classes, perform routine errands, and maintain vital social and civic connections virtually. It has also meant that Americans are adopting unfamiliar, untested, and insecure communication technology that may leave them susceptible to nonconsensual pornography (NCP, also known as “revenge porn”), sexual extortion, harassment, stalking, inadvertent exposure of private information, and multiple other vulnerabilities….Abuse and exploitation are rife on newly-popular video conferencing applications such as Zoom, as trolls and hackers take advantage of new users’ lack of familiarity with privacy and security settings. Malicious actors have hijacked town halls, graduation ceremonies, and classes all around the country, subjecting unsuspecting members of the public to violent child pornography, racist invective, and misogynist abuse. Sensitive information from Zoom calls, including intimate conversations, nudity, and personally identifiable information about children, are accessible on the open web.”

CCRI anticipates that the research findings will inform recommendations for public and private sector intervention. Among these recommendations may be digital safety strategies for users, best-practice policy suggestions for legislatures and tech companies, and practical guidance for law enforcement and social service providers. The recommendations will hopefully prove useful for future events that may necessitate similar “shutdowns,” including natural disasters, civil unrest, domestic or international terrorism, or another health emergency.

About CCRI:  CCRI’s mission is to combat online abuses that threaten civil rights and civil liberties. CCRI is one of the nation’s preeminent nonprofits working to protect vulnerable groups from threats such as nonconsensual pornography (NCP), sexual extortion, digitally manipulated audio-visual material (“deep fakes”), and other online abuses. CCRI provides testimony, legal analysis, and amicus briefs on issues relating to online privacy and free expression. CCRI has also provided support to over 7,000 victims of NCP through the CCRI Crisis Helpline. 

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