Published On: Mon, Jul 4th, 2016

Massive nude photo leak raises issue of online protection laws in Trinidad and Tobago

privacy2PORT OF SPAIN - Trinidad and Tobago has found itself in embroiled in a scandal involving hundreds of nude photos of young Trinidadian women and girls being circulated online and through mobile apps. Police suspect it is part of an online pornography ring, and that some of the photographs are being sold.

The leak allegedly affected women and girls who shared their photos with people they trusted. The photos were subsequently shared with an online database. One victim said that her face was photoshopped onto another woman's body. Those affected have come together and formed a revenge porn support group and some have told their stories to the media.

The country's Children's Act advocates imprisonment for those convicted of making, distributing and even accessing child pornography online. For adults affected, the consequences are less clear. At least according to one lawyer, the remedy for adults may be limited to civil lawsuits.

Colouring online discussions about the scandal has been the commentary of controversial temporary independent senator Dr Kriyaan Singh. (Singh was acting for Senator David Small, who was abroad, but has since returned to his post.) In an initial Facebook post about the issue, Singh wrote that he “fully support[s] nudity”:
“Be proud of your sexiness and to ass with the low life scums who share nudes of others to these sites. Just remember being naked online privately is not illegal and it is never a grounds for dismissal.”

In another Facebook post, which was public, he offered to help the women and girls.

He later provided this update:

“So my simple investigation in speaking with several of the girls on the list, some who are still under age revealed that they each only sent pics to one person.

“That narrows it down to who started sharing their private photos without their consent on triniporn.

“Ladies if you are friends with them and have been asked for pics please state so now and take action.”

Singh also offered an avenue for them to tell their story anonymously:

“If any of the girls on the porn list would like to anonymously speak to the media please message me. One reporter is interested in their side of the story.”

While he has his supporters, Singh has been criticised by political and civil society groups, including Fixin’ T&T, which argued that the former senator's social media posts -- both on this issue and on others -- do not carry the spirit of impartiality that independents are supposed to embody.

And they aren't the only ones. Writer and political blogger/commentator Rhoda Bharath wrote to the country's president asking him to revoke Singh's appointment, explaining:

“I, along with other right thinking citizens, have observed a disturbing trend in the comments and posts made by Dr Singh on social media. I have attached for your perusal several screen shots of posts or comments that appear to be either politically charged, ethnically prejudiced or sexist in nature, if not openly derogatory.”

There was also an online petition circulating in an effort to have Singh removed on the grounds that he is not impartial and “continues to display an attitude of disrespect on social media that is unbecoming”. Yet, attorney Justin Phelps, in a public Facebook post, cautioned:

“That's a dangerous road because it means that anything not packaged according to our colonial threshold for decent is also incompetent.”

Scandal fans flames of online privacy debate

The leak once again raises questions about online privacy and sexuality -- an issue Trinidad and Tobago has grappled with in the context of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Amendment Bill, which would give the authorities more crime detection power by expanding the scope of the country's Strategic Service Agency to include serious offences such as homicide, terrorism, human trafficking, corruption and cybercrime. Currently, the Act focuses primarily on drug-related crimes.

The bill passed in the Senate in early May and was finally approved by the president; it now awaits proclamation in order to take effect.

The country's opposition -- and some independent senators -- voted against the bill, arguing that it would infringe privacy. The country's Chamber of Commerce also had concerns about checks and balances for the process. The amendment will make it much easier for the SSA to engage in information-gathering through certain types of telecommunications surveillance.

Many people send nude or sexually explicit images of themselves which they intend to be private -- as was the case here -- so the SSA Act is timely. Netizens are interested in how it will deal with technology and treat these kinds of privacy infringements. Even when the SSA Act is finally proclaimed, the law will not be made retroactive.

Readers who are worried about the privacy of their online communications should know that any photo posted online -- be it on social networks or mailing lists -- can be found, downloaded, redistributed and tampered with using software like Photoshop. Once it is posted or sent, netizens need to understand that they no longer have control over where it might go. The best ways to share anything private, including naked pictures, is to use end-to-end encrypted messengers such as Signal, or encrypted email solutions like Tutanota or Proton Mail.

Learn about these and other privacy solutions with the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Surveillance Self-Defense guide, which is now available in eleven languages.

This article by Flora Thomas originally appeared on Global Voices on July 1, 2016.

Click Tag(s) for Related Articles: