01:06, June 29 163 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-29 01:06:29
Cross-party group of MPs seek to close loophole in upskirting bill

A cross-party group of MPs will seek to close a loophole in the government’s upskirting bill that could have allowed people who took images for financial gain or simply for fun to escape justice.

The Conservative MP Maria Miller has held discussions with Labour’s Jess Phillips and the Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse about an amendment that would ensure there was a blanket ban on taking the voyeuristic images whatever the motivation.

The bill as drafted only criminalises people taking upskirt photographs for reasons of sexual gratification or to cause distress, but campaigners say it may not cover pictures of celebrities or images taken “for a laugh”.

“If someone was successful in arguing this, it would make a mockery of the law,” Miller said. “Our amendment will remove the categories and make it unlawful for all upskirting images to be taken, but insert various defences, including taking the image for the purposes of law enforcement, or where it is a genuine accident.

“This could be a real deficit in the legislation which needs to be fixed before it is passed.”

The government has agreed to sponsor the legislation after a private members bill originally submitted by Hobhouse was blocked by Conservative MP Christopher Chope on procedural grounds. The bill’s second reading is expected to be on 3 July.

MPs will propose another amendment to the bill that would also make the distribution of upskirt images a crime. “There is no element within this bill that helps the police understand that it is a more severe crime if a picture is distributed online, or in any way,” Miller said. “This law needs to have an element within it which recognises that would also be a crime.”

The group of MPs had hoped to amend the bill more widely to criminalise other aspects of abusive online behaviour but were told it was not possible to introduce further amendments to ban “deepfake” pornographic images in which real faces are photoshopped on to explicit images or to reclassify revenge pornography as a sexual offence and so guarantee anonymity for victims when they pursue charges.

Miller said she would use a speech in the House of Commons on Monday to call for a wider review of sexual offences.

“I’ll be calling for an overhaul of the way it is decided how something is a sex crime – it is absurd that upskirting is a sex crime but posting images online for thousands to see is not a sex crime. It is treating online crime as second class crime,” she said. “Unfortunately it’s not something that can be changed in this bill.”

Research suggests one in three people who have had intimate images posted online without their consent withdrew their complaints when they could not be assured of anonymity. Labour has said it will support such a bid to make revenge porn a sex crime and thus give anonymity to victims.

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