Under a planned amendment to the Online Safety Bill, people who share so-called ‘deepfakes’ – explicit images or videos which have been manipulated to look like someone without their consent – will be among those to be specifically criminalised for the first time and face potential time behind bars.
The government will also bring forward a package of additional laws to tackle a range of abusive behaviour, including installing equipment, such as hidden cameras, to take or record images of someone without their consent.
These will cover so-called ‘downblousing’ – where photos are taken down a woman’s top without consent – allowing police and prosecutors to pursue such cases more effectively.
This will deliver on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to criminalise the practice, in line with the government’s previous measures to outlaw ‘upskirting’.
Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab said:
We must do more to protect women and girls, from people who take or manipulate intimate photos in order to hound or humiliate them.
Our changes will give police and prosecutors the powers they need to bring these cowards to justice and safeguard women and girls from such vile abuse.
Today’s announcement builds on Dame Maria Miller MP’s campaign, as well as the Law Commission’s recommendations to introduce reforms to the laws covering the abuse of images.
The amendment to the Online Safety Bill will broaden the scope of current intimate image offences so that more perpetrators will face prosecution and potentially time in jail.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said:
I welcome these moves by the government which aim to make victims and survivors safer online, on the streets and in their own homes.
I am pleased to see this commitment in the Online Safety Bill, and hope to see it continue its progression through Parliament at the earliest opportunity.
Around 1 in 14 adults in England and Wales have experienced a threat to share intimate images, with more than 28,000 reports of disclosing private sexual images without consent recorded by police between April 2015 and December 2021.
The package of reforms follows growing global concerns around the abuse of new technology, including the increased prevalence of deepfakes. These typically involve the use of editing software to make and share fake images or videos of a person without their consent, which are often pornographic in nature. A website that virtually strips women naked received 38 million hits in the first 8 months of 2021.
The government will take forward several of the Law Commission’s recommendations to ensure legislation keeps pace with technology and can effectively tackle emerging forms of abuse. This includes:
- Repealing and replacing current legislation with new offences simplifies the law and makes it easier to prosecute cases. This includes a new base offence of sharing an intimate image without consent and 2 more serious offences based on intent to cause humiliation, alarm, or distress and for obtaining sexual gratification.
- Creation of 2 specific offences for threatening to share and installing equipment to enable images to be taken.
- Criminalising the non-consensual sharing of manufactured intimate images (more commonly known as deepfakes).
The move builds on government action in recent years to better protect victims and bring more offenders to justice, including making ‘upskirting’ and ‘breastfeeding voyeurism’ specific criminal offences, extending ‘revenge porn’ laws to capture threats to share such images, and using the Online Safety Bill to create an offence specifically targeting ‘cyber flashing’.
Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge, said:
Refuge welcomes these reforms and is pleased to see progress in tackling abuse perpetrated via technology. As the only frontline service with a specialist tech abuse team, Refuge is uniquely placed to support survivors who experience this form of abuse.
We campaigned successfully for threatening to share intimate images with intent to cause distress to be made a crime, via the Domestic Abuse Act, and these reforms will further ensure police and law enforcement agencies rightly investigate and prosecute these serious offences.
Tech abuse can take many forms, and Refuge hopes that these changes will signal the start of a much broader conversation on the need for strengthening the response to online abuse and harm.
DCMS Secretary of State Michelle Donelan said:
Through the Online Safety Bill, I am ensuring that tech firms will have to stop illegal content and protect children on their platforms, but we will also upgrade criminal law to prevent appalling offences like cyberflashing.
With these latest additions to the Bill, our laws will go even further to shield women and children, who are disproportionately affected, from this horrendous abuse once and for all.
The government will bring forward the wider package of changes as soon as parliamentary time allows and will announce further details in due course.