NEFAC Calls for First Amendment Protections in R.I. ‘Revenge Pornography’ Legislation

Update 4.4.18: NEFAC sent a similar letter to the Rhode Island House of Representatives on April 3 to address its versions of the legislation. 

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently called on Rhode Island legislators to protect press rights while combatting “revenge pornography,” saying a proposed bill could have a chilling effect on news organizations.

Revenge pornography is commonly considered the sharing of images depicting adult nudity without the consent of the person pictured. Such images are often shared to humiliate or embarrass the people depicted in them.

“Our coalition takes very seriously the privacy interests at stake with revenge pornography legislation,” wrote Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, in a March 27 letter to members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. “These interests, however, need to be protected in a way that does not infringe on the First Amendment rights provided by our Constitution.”

Of particular concern is Senate Bill 2450 which allows criminal prosecution when there is no intent to harm. Such intent is required by many states that already have laws targeting revenge pornography. Without this requirement, news organizations would risk criminal charges every time they chose to show nude images, Silverman explained.

“This risk would lead journalists to self-censor and not publish newsworthy images they otherwise would,” he wrote.

Also being considered by the committee is Senate Bill 2581, which in comparison, requires an intent to harass, intimidate, threaten, or coerce the person pictured in the image. This bill “more effectively targets the purveyors of revenge pornography — which is the goal of this type of legislation — and also provides protection for news organizations,” according to the letter.

The March 27 letter is the most recent effort by NEFAC to protect the rights of journalists and news organizations from overbroad revenge pornography legislation.

In June 2016, NEFAC joined the ACLU of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Press Association in urging Gov. Gina Raimondo to veto a bill that could have impeded newsgathering and chilled protected speech. The bill was ultimately vetoed. In May 2017, NEFAC called for constitutional safeguards in new versions of the legislation. The coalition then joined other advocates in July 2017 and last January to emphasize the need for legislation that criminalizes revenge pornography without infringing on the press.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.