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    Running a Revenge Porn Site Can Get You Arrested, But Not Because of Revenge Porn Laws

    Image via Flickr/Marsmettin Tallahassee

    In one of the first prosecutions of its kind, a man has been arrested on suspicion of operating a “revenge porn” site—but it wasn’t actually revenge porn laws that brought him down.

    According to a statement from California's Department of Justice, 27-year-old Kevin Bollaert was arrested in San Diego yesterday and is currently being held on $50,000 bail. He’s accused of operating revenge porn site ugotposted.com, which hosted explicit images of people (most always women) without their permission. It was the standard revenge porn setup in the vein of Hunter Moore’s infamous IsAnyoneUp: People—usually ex-boyfriends with a grudge—would submit nudies they'd obtained privately to be posted on the public site.

    That’s a pretty shitty thing to do, but it’s proven difficult to legislate against. Although California became one of the first states to introduce a law against the practice earlier this year, it's been criticized for leaving too many loopholes. This whole saga is a case in point, as the revenge porn law was not used as grounds for Bollaert's arrest.

    You see, the problem with the law is that it only really concerns people who first take an explicit photo intended for private use and then distribute it with the intent of causing emotional stress. That leaves a lot of leeway for the people who actually run revenge porn sites.

    So how did Bollaert find himself arrested? Quite simply, he got greedy. Rather than just posting the x-rated photos and maybe making some money from on-site advertising, he's accused of going a step further and using the images for blackmail. And for that, he’s facing 31 felony counts of conspiracy, identity theft and extortion.

    “This website published intimate photos of unsuspecting victims and turned their public humiliation and betrayal into a commodity with the potential to devastate lives,” explained Attorney General Kamala Harris in a statement. “Online predators that profit from the extortion of private photos will be investigated and prosecuted for this reprehensible and illegal internet activity.”

    The problems start with how the photos were displayed on the site. Ugotposted required submissions to include the subject’s name, age, location, and a link to their Facebook profile. The arrest warrant asserts that by requiring this information, the site could be considered as aiding and abetting the crime of identify theft, with the unlawful intent to annoy or harass.

    In the documents, there’s evidence that victims of the site were indeed harassed as a result of their information being shared. One, identified only as Jane Doe #6, apparently wrote to Bollaert saying she was being targeted by users of the site: “PLEASE HELP! I am scared for my life! People are calling my work place and they obtained the information from this site! I did not give permission for anyone to put up those pictures or my personal information. I have contacted the police but these pictures need to come down! Please!”

    Another complaint against Bollaert concerns extortion, and this is where things get really nasty. Bollaert is alleged to have set up another site called changemyreputation.com, through which he would offer victims the chance to have their content removed—for a fee of up to $350. According to the court documents, he collected over $10,000 this way between December 2012 and September 2013.

    The warrant states that Bollaert admitted creating ugotposted.com, and that evidence from his computer suggests he owned or ran changemyreputation.com.

    Though it’s obviously too early to see which way the case will go, and Bollaert is of course innocent unless proven guilty, this investigation raises renewed doubts about the adequacy (or rather inadequacy) of new revenge porn laws, which are notably absent from the discussion.

    As for Bollaert, it appears he’s maybe come around to the view that hosting a revenge porn site isn’t a very nice thing to do. According to the court papers, he told the officials who interviewed him, “Yeah, I realise like this is not a good situation. I feel bad about the whole thing and I just don’t want to do it anymore. I mean I know a lot of people are getting screwed over like on the site. Like their lives are getting ruined.”

    Hunter Moore he ain’t. 

    Topics: revenge porn, Internet, sex, ugotposted, extortion, identity theft, Law

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