Thursday, 17 December 2020
Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages
It is the strong intention of the Social Democrats to support this Bill. We recognise that this particular Minister of Justice has prioritised the Bill. Certainly, in recent weeks, in light of the leadership that has been demonstrated, in particular, by young women on Twitter who have been impacted by this, there has been some rapidity brought to the legislation and we welcome the swiftness with which this is being carried.
We brought the necessary speed needed to enact this legislation following the discovery of thousands of non-consensual images and videos of Irish women and girls being distributed and shared online earlier in November of this year. Over many years, there has been no legislative protection offered to victims of this crime or punishment to the perpetrators. It is long past time that that ceased.
I recognise that the Bill has been strengthened on Committee Stage in that it now includes the Domestic Violence Act 2018 among the Acts referred to and has a requirement to carry out a review of the operations of the Bill in three years' time. The amendments I and others have put forward are intended to strengthen the protection of the Bill. I thank the work of the Victims Alliance and the Rape Crisis Centre for their tireless work they have done engaging with public representatives to improve the Bill.
The Bill needs to be future-proofed as much as possible to ensure that it keeps up with technology and recognises that technology currently available is being used to create deepfake intimate images. Deepfake intimate images, which are images that appear to be intimate images of the person but are not, cannot be separated out from this Bill as they are just as harmful, just as damaging and equally morally reprehensible. We need to ensure that they are captured in the legislation. As of September 2019, the artificial intelligence, AI, firm Deeptrace found that there were 15,000 deepfake videos online and 96% of these videos were pornographic. The technology is becoming more widely accessible and is used almost exclusively for the creation and non-consensual distribution of pornographic images and videos of women and young girls.
The current wording of the Bill refers to images of the person's genitals, buttocks, anal region or breasts. This, as pointed out by the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, leaves the door open to the defence argument that they are not images of the person's intimate areas that have been altered but are non-intimate images of the person instead, used to create deepfake images which appear to be, but are not, images of the intimate parts of the person's body. That is a huge gap in the legislation.
A wide variety of amendments have been put forward. This is one of those issues on which we do not have to be divided in terms of our political parties or where we align ourselves on the political spectrum. We can find common ground.
I strongly encourage the Minister of State to accept one of the amendments. We do not mind which one. Let us just strengthen the Bill. What we have brought forward is in consultation with a wide variety of people who have been impacted by this issue and has been strengthened by groups which have committed themselves to altering the law.