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What should you do if private photos of you are leaked?

Whilst the leaking of private photos is not a new phenomenon, there is increasing awareness and media coverage of the extent of the problem, such as in Zara McDermotts high-profile documentary.

Such a violation of privacy often has the effect of leaving victims feeling helpless and exposed. It is therefore extremely important to be aware both of your legal rights and the key practical steps to be taken in the event of a leak.

What is revenge porn?

Revenge porn is where someone shares an image or video of another person without their consent to cause distress or embarrassment. It is often ex-partners that do this to try to upset the other person due because the relationship broke down. It is now regarded as a criminal offence and applies to both online and offline publication, so can include:

  • Uploading photos to the internet
  • Sharing by email or text
  • Showing someone the image (either the physical image or an electronic version)

Private photos would include anything that would not normally be seen in public. Sexual images do not necessarily need to be nude photos but can be anything that is regarded as sexual including someone engaged in a sexual act or posing in a sexually provocative way.

Can the law protect you in this situation?

Regardless of how photos are obtained, revenge porn is a crime under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. The maximum sentence for this offence is two years imprisonment.

Sharing private photos may also be an offence under:

  • Communications Act 2003
  • Malicious Communications Act 1988
  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997 if the behaviour is repeated and would amount to an offence of harassment

The key concept in this law is that of consent to the publication of the images. This means that, even where the private photos have been sent to another person, the recipient does not have the right to upload them online. Even threatening to do so may constitute a criminal offence, particularly if the recipient is demanding money for them not to be published, as blackmail is prohibited under the Theft Act 1968.

In situations where the photos have been obtained by hacking into a mobile device or an individual account, a further offence has likely been committed. The Computer Misuse Act 1990 defines various crimes relating to unauthorised access to computer material, and these are also punishable by imprisonment.

Finally, the law on this issue goes beyond the criminal realm. It may be possible to bring civil claims such as harassment, which, as detailed below, can be remedied by compensation.

But what can I do about it?

The nature of these leaks often leaves victims feeling embarrassed and exposed, believing that the damage has already been done. However, there are several important steps to be taken to counter the effects of a leak.

Obtain expert legal advice

Perhaps most importantly of all, if you become the victim of a leak or threatened leak of private photos, it is advisable to immediately obtain legal advice from a Reputation and Privacy legal expert as well as potential criminal support.

This is because the appropriate response and timing of actions should be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case. By adopting the right strategic steps, it may be possible to prevent the publication of images. It is also important to be aware of how actions taken without sensitive handling may generate further unwanted publicity. In any case, an approach can be adopted seeking to minimise the impact on you and obtain a seek swift and discreet resolution in satisfaction of your legal rights. Some of the actions you may be advised to take include the following.

Inform the police

An important first step is often to inform the police of the leak or threatened leak. The police can investigate any offences committed including those detailed above.

In order for the police to be able to take appropriate action, it is often key to save and provide any relevant evidence such as screenshots of messages revealing threats of publication or evidencing the individuals in possession of the photos.

Contact the website or social media company

The owners of websites are known as webmasters, and these include the owners of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram. If the leaked images have been posted online, you can inform the webmaster of the content and request that it is removed. Most social media sites have a help centre where you can report inappropriate content directly. The webmaster does not have to agree to do this though and it may be necessary to have a lawyer contact them to explain the situation.

It may be necessary to do this for several different webmasters if the photos have been shared on multiple sites, although many social media platforms now have systems in place to directly report such content. Furthermore, you can also seek to have the photos removed from search engines such as Google.

Explore whether a civil claim may be made for compensation

In addition to punishing the person leaking the photos, the law also recognises that victims should be compensated for the damage suffered in several instances.

It may also be possible to bring claims relating to misuse of private information and/or breach of confidence, and to obtain damages for the leak as well as recovering financial losses caused by it.

An experienced Reputation and Privacy lawyer will be able to assist you and guide you through the several legal and practical steps to protect your position in the event of a leak.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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