Dáil debates

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages


3:30 pm

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I have tabled amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 7 and I hope they have been drafted in such a way as to not impede passage of this important legislation. It is vital that consent is given to the subject of the image. Safe Ireland is the national social change agency working to end gender-based violence and it made a lengthy submission. Other Members have discussed deepfakes. We have to talk about images taken or created without someone's knowledge or consent. One explanation of sexual deepfakes is that they are made through the use of advanced technology and make it appear as though individuals are in videos or images in which they never took part, as a person in an existing image or video which features sexual content is replaced with someone else's likeness without their consent. The manipulated visual or audio content has a high potential to deceive. It is important that we are clear the subject of the image must give consent. This is about consent. I really feel it is something that would strengthen the Bill.

Since the spark of the #MeToo movement we have rightly become more aware of things we may have passed off or written off as acceptable. Thankfully, we have reached a stage where we know what is wrong and we know we will not stand for it any more. The Bill is hugely important when it comes to sharing intimate images of someone. If people do not have consent they cannot post the image. The act of posting it is a criminal offence. This is why we state it is so important. We must discuss the definition of consent in the Bill because there is a massive difference between images shared between a loving couple and images stolen from a sleeping individual at a party, an intoxicated person or a child who does not know what they are sending out into the ether. It is important we protect children and vulnerable adults as much as any adult of whom an image is taken or created.

Just yesterday, a nine year old told me that his idea of sharing things on the Internet is like pouring water into the river. We never get some of it back. We might get some of it back but not all of it. This is the thing about online images. We might be able to control the lighting and mood but we cannot control what happens once the images leave us and end up online. This is very important and must inform the legislation. We have to make sure. Many amendments have been tabled but, as other speakers have said, it is important to strengthen the Bill.

Images shared between two consenting adults and images later shared online that have been distorted for nefarious intent are vastly different. This is why defining consent in the Bill is important. We must include it or we risk the language being too loose, leaving consent to be defined by someone in a court of law in a "she said, he said, she said" type of conversation. If we place it on a statutory footing it will be defined for all to see and for all to know and form the basis of education in this regard. We have long known the Internet is a wild west without any kind of policing. It is high time we introduced criminal sanctions for bad behaviour online. It should always have been a criminal offence to share intimate images of someone without consent but now it must be the case. The devastation from this type of abuse is absolutely horrific. We have got to be very clear about any definition of consent and intent and note that image-based abuse is abuse of a sexual nature.

I compliment Deputy Howlin. He has been working on the Bill for a long time. This is important and it needs to be done as soon as possible.


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