WARNING! Take such pictures at your own risk

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WARNING! Take such pictures at your own risk
If your private pictures get posted online, there might not be any way of getting them down, say lawyers
THERE may be no recourse for you if your nude pictures turn up on a US-based website.
By Liew Hanqing and Germaine Lim
28 July 2009

THERE may be no recourse for you if your nude pictures turn up on a US-based website.

So if you have ever allowed yourself to be photographed in the buff, be warned.

First, you risk putting yourself on display on a popular US-based website, which has catapulted several Singaporean women to online notoriety.

You could beg and plead for your pictures to be removed, or, like others have done, even make a police report.

But the webmaster of the site says he will not budge.

In an e-mail interview with The New Paper, the webmaster of the Arizona-based site said that once he creates a post on his website, it is never removed.

He said: ‘Before a post is created, I go to great lengths to ensure it will obeys all applicable criminal laws.

‘But mistakes, if any, can and will be corrected when they are pointed out convincingly. If a post violates an applicable law, only then it will be removed.’

He added that because his website is based outside Singapore’s jurisdiction, posts on Singaporean scandals there will not be removed – even if authorities here request it.

In the latest case, the webmaster posted a Singaporean undergraduate’s sex pictures on his website, and subsequently received numerous requests for the pictures to be removed.

He said: ‘There were many comments on the post requesting the pictures to be removed. Some of them claim to be the girl’s friends.’

A day after he first posted the pictures on his site earlier this month, the webmaster also received an e-mail from a relative of the girl, requesting that the post be removed.

Said the webmaster: ‘He asked for the post to be removed immediately, or face legal action. I did not reply to the e-mail.’

He claimed he also received an e-mail request from the Singapore police to remove the post, and to provide information on the source of the pictures.

‘A reply was sent to the officer requesting a scanned copy of the police report but it never came,’ the webmaster claimed.

A spokesman for the Singapore police confirmed a report had been lodged and that investigations are ongoing.

The webmaster said he had learnt of the student’s leaked pictures on 17 Apr.

He received the first pictures on 24 Apr, but decided not to post them until ‘a few things were checked.’

He claimed that he first compared the pictures he had received to third-party pictures of the student, to verify her identity.

He also claimed that he checked the university’s calendar year.

‘I thought it would probably best (or less bad) for the student not to have the pictures leaked in the middle of a semester in April or around her exams.

‘So I delayed the post to the summer. That was the best I could do because she does seem like a likable person.’

He added that he did not know who first uploaded the pictures of the student, and if the person was related to her.

Singapore lawyers agree that there was very little a victim could do.

Lawyer Adrian Wee told The New Paper that the victim may not be able to claim damages if the pictures were not stolen.

Assuming the photos were not altered, a claim for defamation is also unlikely to succeed given that the photos were taken with permission.

He added that it is difficult to commence action against someone located in a different jurisdiction.

He said: ‘For example, if you have an American with a UK-based server, but who lives in Singapore, it would be difficult to determine where one would commence legal action.’

Mr Wee added that the victim might argue there was an expressed or implied agreement that the pictures would not be distributed to a third party at the time the pictures were taken.

‘The victim needs to demonstrate to the court that there was such an agreement. She could then ask the court to order the removal of the pictures,’ he said.

Even so, it would be a long shot for the court to rule in the victim’s favour, Mr Wee said.

‘In addition, this would only work if the defendant is in the jurisdiction of Singapore courts.’

Difficult to control

He said that the Singapore police cannot do anything to ensure the photos are removed.

‘It can only request the US authorities to take action. It’s up to the latter to decide what they will do,’ Mr Wee said.

He added that unlike child pornography, which is an international crime, US authorities are unlikely to take down porn sites which are not banned in its own country.

Ms Yuvarani Thangavelu, Deputy Director (Licensing Policy), Development Policy Division, Media Development Authority, told The New Paper that MDA regulates Internet content with joint government and industry initiatives as well as public involvement.

‘Internet Service Providers and Internet Content Providers are regulated under the light-touch Class Licence scheme and have to abide by the conditions of the Class Licence and Internet Code of Practice,’ she said.

Regulations, she said, focus on those who distribute pornography or other offensive materials, including seditious content.

‘The unauthorised dissemination of personal photos on the Internet without consent is a privacy issue that is beyond MDA’s regulatory purview,’ she said.

She added that aggrieved individuals should seek legal advice to determine the most appropriate legal recourse. They may also wish to contact the website directly for assistance in taking down the photos.

Websites hosted overseas, she said, are beyond MDA’s jurisdiction.

‘While websites can be blocked, it is not practical for MDA to block all objectionable websites on a borderless and dynamic Internet,’ she said.

However, MDA does block 100 mass impact websites as a ‘symbolic statement of core societal values’.

She added that MDA does not monitor which websites individuals access in the privacy of their homes.

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4 Responses to “WARNING! Take such pictures at your own risk”

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