Voyeurism: additional offences

Part of Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 12th July 2018.

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Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 12:15 pm, 12th July 2018

The hon. Lady makes a good point. DCMS is looking at this issue. Its report will come forward in due course and then we will need to consider it—both its scope and whether there is anything else that needs to be considered. Sharing images is a wide issue and the Government are very aware that they need to consider new technologies, how they are affecting women and children, the issue of the distribution of images, and all the horrors, as well as benefits, that come with the internet.

We are concerned that using the Bill, which is moving at pace, to deal with this issue could result in unforeseen consequences. I will mention a few of those in the context of the amendment.

First, the amendment suggests that a person would be guilty if they received and shared an image even if they did not know that it had been taken without consent. Secondly, under the amendment, a person would also be liable if the image was passed on to them by email and they passed it on by email, social media or messenger app without opening it.

So, while we must of course consider carefully those who are victims, it is also important to point out that other laws and a number of other offences relate to this area, which will potentially catch perpetrators of this sort of crime. So, onward sharing is captured by the revenge porn offence, if it is done without consent and with the intention of causing distress to the victim.

There are also offences that might capture the distribution of such photos. The offence of improper use of a public electronic communications network is captured by section 127(1) of the Communications Act 2003, while section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 captures the sending of letters and other articles with intent to cause distress or anxiety. There are also harassment offences.

The sharing of images is not just a question for the criminal law; we also need to consider the responsibility of the platforms on which those images are shared. Victims need to know that such images will be taken down rapidly, and it is good to know that YouTube, Facebook and Twitter all have terms and conditions that state they will remove upskirting images when they identify them or are requested to do so by a user.

If someone takes an upskirt image and subsequently shares it, they will be fully punished for taking it, and any harm caused by the sharing of it would be taken into account in sentencing. The two-year maximum sentence for the new offence is a serious penalty that fully reflects the harm caused.

The offences in the Bill will tackle the taking of the photo. Existing offences already capture the misuse of communication networks, but, importantly, that issue is wider than the Bill can cover, and the Government are already looking at the broader issue of online abuse. In those circumstances, I urge that the amendment be withdrawn.