Stolen Jennifer Lawrence pics the subject of Capitol Hill debate

An advisory committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus meets Thursday to consider what expectations of privacy Americans should have.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Jennifer Lawrence was one of many actresses who had their personal photos stolen. Can the law act on her behalf? The Tonight Show/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When something bad happens on the Web, people wonder when something will be done about it.

Then they forget all about it.

The theft of personal photos of actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence appalled many. Then more photos came out, as if it was a commonplace occurrence.

On Thursday, the very first steps are being taken to consider how the law might address such theft. The Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee is meeting to discuss the topic: "Jennifer Lawrence's Hacked Photos: A "Sex Crime?" The Legal Underpinnings of Digitally Exposed Private Images and What Congress Needs to Know."

Among the speakers are Mary Anne Franks, associate professor of law at the University of Miami School of Law, and Emma Llansó, director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

The advisory committee intends to ask the very important question: "What kind of legal recourse does Jennifer Lawrence -- or an everyday American citizen like you -- have against hackers and websites that peddle such photos?"

The aim is to analyze exactly what contemporary expectations of privacy are in a realm of digital photography from revenge porn to so-called "upskirt" pictures taken in broad daylight.

It seems that every week, there is some sort of incident involving stolen photos of women. On Friday, a California police officer was charged with stealing personal photos from an arrestee's iPhone, a practice he had allegedly described as "a game."

The advisory committee itself is not a government institution. Instead, it is a private sector organization, where representatives of all interested stakeholders -- from corporations to private interest groups -- meet.

The purpose of the advisory committee is to discuss how to ensure that members of the Congressional Internet Caucus, and Congress members in general, understand issues about which they may have to have an opinion.

The problem of all legislation when it comes to the Web is that technology always moves faster than the law. Legislate against one type of activity and some self-regarding youth will find another way to achieve his sad ends.

The committee is using the Twitter hashtag #exposedphotos to attract attention to its event. Let's hope that hashtag doesn't get twisted by those who might find it amusing.