Privacy is important. And it must be protected. Especially online. I have been involved with Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) since 2016. When they first formed, there were 3 states with laws against nonconsensual pornography (NCP) (you might be familiar with the similar, but different, term "revenge porn"). Thanks to CCRI's help, there are 46 states with laws against it and we've helped introduce a federal bill as well. As a nonprofit, CCRI's vision is a world in which law, policy, and technology align to ensure the protection of civil rights and civil liberties for all. CCRI combats online abuse, which may result when an individual posts online a nearly-nude image of another individual without her consent. When this happens, victims may experience emotional trauma and may not understand what defenses she may have against this terrible behavior.
I have been looking for a way to help spread awareness of this issue and to share CCRI's initiative with the world. CCRI spends a good amount of their budget on a 24/7 victim national helpline. The costs are high, and most callers come from North Miami, the location of CCRI. CCRI believes in order to reach more victims in need, they need to fund more helplines in different states and market the helpline. However, I approached them with a different idea. One that uses technology to provide the same resources as the helpline, is cheaper to maintain, and will reach more victims than ever before.
Nonconsensual pornography (NCP), which is also commonly referred to as “revenge porn,” is a privacy violation that causes devastating and often irreparable harms to victims, including threats to physical safety, severe psychological trauma, loss of employment and educational opportunities, erosion of intimate relationships, and self-censorship. An unfortunately popular example of NCP is when Jennifer Lawrence's iCloud account was hacked and intimate photos of herself were posted on the internet. A less popular, yet still unfortunate, example, is of a 15-year-old girl from Florida who took her own life in 2016 after her "friends" recorded her while she was showering and shared the footage, without her consent.
A peer-reviewed study conducted by Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) found that 1 in 8 social media users have been targets of NCP. 1 in 12 have actually experienced NCP victimization and 1 in 20 perpetrated NCP. In 2015 CCRI conducted an informal survey of 1,606 respondents, 361 (23%) of whom reported that they had been the victim of NCP. Statistics from that survey reveal the devastating harm that victims suffer. Other important statistics are the following:
- 49% said they had been harassed or stalked online by users who had seen their material;
- 30% said they had been harassed or stalked outside of the Internet (in person, over the phone) by users who saw the material online;
- 93% of victims reported that they suffered significant emotional distress, 51% had suicidal thoughts;
- 13% had difficulty getting a job or getting into school;
- 8% quit their job or dropped out of school;
- 6% were fired from their job or kicked out of school; and
- 42% had not changed their name but had considered it.
Most NCP victims are unaware of their cyber civil rights. When victims approach law enforcement for urgent help, police officers typically do not understand the circumstance of the crime or may not understand that it is in fact illegal in most states to post such images. Victims walk away feeling hopeless and helpless.
What it does
The web/mobile app is an alternative resource when it may be impossible to call and speak with one and when it may be too embarrassing or humiliating to speak about the victim's situation. Identical to the helpline, after being asked a couple questions, the user receives relevant statutes based on their location. A victim can take this information to the police or to a pro bono attorney for assistance. The user can indicate where her image was posted as well, so we can provide her with step-by-step instructions on how to report the post and remove it. There is also a mobile web app for individuals who do not own computers. This is the basic foundation of the guide, with potential to expand to more features.
The app is a free, fast, and user-friendly guide for victims trying to obtain justice. There will be no need for a victim to make a call and explain her/his situation. And, there would be no need for victims in crisis to google frantically, especially when they may not even know what exactly to google. In addition, this app is useful for a victim who might find herself in a dangerous situation where she cannot speak. The app will also provide a victim with resources on how to remove the image on major social media platforms.
How I built it
I learned the Neota Logic platform using their training resources. I then downloaded their studio and built the web app from scratch using if/then reasoning and building a database of state statutes against NCP.
Challenges I ran into
Issues of confidentiality: I had to work with CCRI to decide whether we wanted to collect data other than for the purpose of surveys.
Hosting the web platform: I built this with Carlton Field's license. Carlton has indicated support to run this web app for CCRI as a pro bono opportunity.
Inputting data: it was difficult deciding what kind of information we would want to show victims. We had to make sure we didn't provide legal advice to them.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
CCRI: I am over the moon that I was able to work with CCRI to provide them a resource that not only helps victims, but helps the organization. The helpline is 18% of their operating budget. If we start utilizing this web app, we can look in the future at how to eliminate costs with the helpline and instead spend the money promoting this online resource guide.
Sponsorship: Carlton Fields advocates for the future of legal tech and when I brought to them the idea of helping out a nonprofit using Neota Logic, they were supportive. If everything goes accordingly to plan, CCRI will obtain this resource guide with minimal costs and will build a lasting relationship between a nonprofit and private firm.
Education: CCRI is hosted at Miami Law and they offer a practicum for law students interested in assisting on legislation, amicus briefs, and more for credit. This online resource guide can show Miami Law the true potential of learning legal technology and can make a great case for bringing such classes to Miami Law (which I have been trying to do since first-year).
What I learned
Teams are important: I originally started building this on my own with minimal feedback. But I knew that in order to make the deadline, I would need to ask other members of Carlton Fields and CCRRI to help make decisions such as questions to ask and which order.
What's next for Cyber Civil Rights Resource Guide
There is a lot in the works for the Resource Guide. We are going to work with CCRI's graphic designer to upgrade the design of the app. We'll also decide whether we want to add other resources to the guide and input all that. In addition, we'll have to get the web app added to the CCRI website and start promoting it.