Minors, images and the law

Posted on Posted in elearn

You may have read reports in the media earlier this year around sharing of inappropriate image of students and ex-students of some 70 Australian schools by outside adults. The images were shared via a site that is anonymous and difficult to trace for law enforcement. The impact on the wellbeing of young people, both victims and perpetrators, of the dissemination of these images, is likely to be serious and ongoing.

This incident is a timely reminder of the need for awareness around security, images and the law.

Minors, images and the law

Victorian child pornography law

Under Victorian law you could be charged with possessing child pornography if you have a film, photograph, publication or computer game that shows a person under 18 (or appears to be under 18):

  • Involved in sexual activity
  • Posing in an indecent sexual manner.

You could also be charged with producing child pornography if you print a publication, make a film, take a photograph, or create a computer game that shows a person under 18 (or appears to be under 18):

  • Involved in sexual activity
  • Posing in an indecent sexual manner.


Exceptions to child pornography offences

From 2 November 2014 you cannot be prosecuted for child pornography offences if you take, store or send indecent images of yourself.

It is also not a child pornography offence if you are under 18 years old and:

  • No person in the photo is more than two years younger than you
  • The photo does not show an act that is serious criminal offence

Image Sharing

Digital images are fundamentally different from photographs. Once a digital image has been shared it is impossible to control what happens to it after that moment. Irrespective of whether the original owner of the image gives permission it cannot be recalled nor is there any practically effective legal means to limit its use. Certainly there are legal avenues available which can order a website to take down an image; however, if the website is not hosted in Australia (most likely) it is outside the jurisdiction of Australian law. Additionally legal avenues may well be slow and if the image exists on hundreds or even thousands of sites it is impossible to serve an effective order on each instance of the image.

Once a digital image leaves your immediate possession effectively the only thing you own is the consequences of its publication on the internet.

 Image Security

Digital images are difficult to totally secure on device, particularly a device that is internet enabled as tablets and smart phones are. Many phones and tablets by default back up images automatically to a cloud service and you must ensure that this is disabled or just have to trust the security of the cloud service. Events in involving female celebrities last year would indicate placing that much trust in a cloud service is unwise

Apps like Snap Chat that claim to share images or files that are irretrievably destroyed a few seconds after sharing give young people a false sense of security around sharing imagery. In fact, it is very difficult to delete a file on a solid-state hard drive (as phones do) in a way that cannot be retrieved.  In many cases, apps leave a copy of the image on the original device in a system folder not viewable on the device but still able to be retrieved by a technician.

Images taken by Smartphones often contain a lot of extra information call metadata. This information can include the exact location of the device when the image was taken down to an accuracy of a metre or two, altitude, velocity, direction the camera was facing, the logged on user of the device. Plus it’s not just images, Smartphones leak metadata via apps constantly, sometimes startlingly personal information over which users have no control and little chance to be aware of what they are giving away via their phone. There are precautions that users can take but these Smartphones by nature are not very secure!

We will have some advice on securing your Smartphone in a post soon.