Cyber flashing is set to become a new criminal offence punishable by up to two years in prison under new laws in the long-awaited Online Safety Bill.
Ministers have confirmed that the offence will be included alongside several other wide-ranging reforms aimed at making the internet a safer place.
Here i takes a look at what cyber-flashing is and what other changes the Bill will bring about.
What is cyber-flashing?
Cyber flashing involves perpetrators sending unsolicited sexual images to people online, either by social media, dating apps or data-sharing services such as Bluetooth and Airdrop.
A preview of the non-consensual photo can appear on a person’s device, meaning that even if the transfer is rejected by the recipient, that person cannot avoid seeing the image.
The new legislation means cyber flashing will carry the same maximum sentence as indecent exposure and will bring England and Wales into line with Scotland, where it has been illegal since 2010.
The move by the Government to criminalise cyber-flashing comes after ministers made upskirting and breastfeeding voyeurism offence.
Both of these crimes carry the same maximum sentence, up to two years in jail.
Who does cyberflashing affect?
Women are the main target of this violation. A YouGov poll found 41 per cent of women aged between 18 and 36 “have been sent an unsolicited photo of a man’s private parts”.
A seperate study by University College London’s Institute of Education in 2020 found that 76 per cent of girls aged between 12 and 18 had been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men.
Justice Minister Victoria Atkins said: “It is unacceptable that women and girls travelling on public transport, or just going about their day-to-day lives, are being subjected to this despicable practice.
“Cyber flashing can cause deep distress to victims and our changes ensure police and prosecutors have the clarity they need to tackle it and keep people safe.”
What else is included in the Online Safety Bill?
The Online Safety Bill will be introduced to Parliament later today and aims to put more pressure on search engines, social media platforms, and dating websites to tackle a range of illegal and harmful content on their services.
It is expected to include plans to create a new independent online regulator, while strengthening duty of care provisions on social media firms to protect users.
The new law will also make it a criminal offence for social media executives to fail to take action on harmful content on their platforms.
Senior managers and executives of tech giants, such as Twitter and Facebook, face being imprisoned for up to two years if they seek to obstruct or suppress efforts by regulator Ofcom to investigate companies believed to be causing users harm.
Other sanctions will include being able to fine tech firms 10 per cent of their global turnover should they fail to take action and, as a last resort, the legislation would enable the Government to block websites from the UK.
Under the updated Bill, the biggest social media platforms must address this content and carry out risk assessments on the types of harms that could appear on their service and how they plan to address it, setting out how they will do this in their terms of service.
Other provisions include requiring sites that host pornography to ensure their users are 18 or over, and bringing paid-for scam adverts into the scope of the legislatoin.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has also promised to protect press freedoms within the Bill, and insisted journalism will have extra protections online.
However, news journalists and freedom of speech campaigners remain sceptical that the Government’s intended changes will not go far enough.
There are also fears that a new category of “legal but harmful” behaviour, intended to prevent abuse on social media, could inadvertently stop publications running articles on contentious issues.
“The forthcoming Online Safety Bill will force tech companies to stop their platforms being used to commit vile acts of cyber flashing,” Ms Dorries said.
“Tech has the power to bring people together and make our lives better, but it can also enable heinous behaviour from those who wish to abuse, harm, and harass”.
What we know will be included in the Online Safety Bill:
- Criminalisation of cyber flashing;
- Sites that host pornography are required to ensure their users are 18 or over;
- Paid-for scam adverts to be targeted;
- New independent online regulator created;
- Social media companies will be required to assess risks of the types of legal harms against adults and children which could arise on their services, set out how they will deal with them, and enforce these terms consistently. This could include material promoting self-harm, eating disorders or harassment;
- Social media executives who fail to take action on harmful content could face up to two years in prison;
- Tech firms could be fined 10 per cent of their global turnover if they fail to take action;
- Power to block websites from the UK;
- Introduction of a “right to appeal” for people who feel their social media posts have been taken down unfairly.