"Extremely difficult" to prosecute over stolen private photos

The law and penalties for stealing private information are clear, but there's little recourse for those who've had intimate photos stolen and shared.

Just 14 states have enacted laws dealing with unwanted distribution of private images including nude photos.

Steven Caponi, a partner with Blank Rome LLP and editor of Cyber Security Law Watch (a division of Blank Rome), a firm that advises businesses and individuals on privacy issues, said the issue is something "extremely difficult" to police.

"The problem there is that you have a patchwork of 50 different laws and the individuals - both the person whose photo was taken and the person whose taken the photo are often located in different states therefore it's unclear what law applies," Caponi explained.

Recent high-profile cases have drawn attention to what investigators call "sextortion," cases where hackers obtain intimate images of a victim, and then threaten to post them online unless a victim pays, as was the case two years ago with Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf.

"What the laws have not kept up with is where individuals obtain celebrity salacious photos solely for the purpose of embarrassment of the celebrity, elevating their own online profile if you will," said Caponi. "In that regard the laws have not kept up to provide civil redress or criminal penalties."

Prosecuting these cases can be difficult in part because of complicated digital trails that obscure who is responsible and even when cases are pursued, courts are sometimes hesitant to send people to jail.

"It's very hard to un-ring the bell because you can't take back images," said Caponi. "You can't cause people to unsee what they have seen, and it's almost impossible to completely scrub the web.

"So while you may have the ability to pursue someone criminally or civilly, the ability to find them, and to obtain piece of mind and closure is very remote."

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.

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