Connecticut House Bill 6921


Summary

Connecticut House Bill 6921 would make it a crime to disseminate, advertise or offer an image that contains nudity or sexual activity if:

  • done without the consent of the person depicted in the image; and
  • knowing that the person understood that the picture would remain private.

There is an exception to the legislation if the dissemination serves a public interest. A violation of the legislation would subject to a year in prison, a $2,000 fine, or both.

As introduced, the bill initially required that the dissemination was done with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm or terrorize another person, but this provision was subsequently taken out of the bill.

Status

Gov. Dan Malloy signed the bill into law. The bill goes into effect October 1, 2015.

Analysis

The bill is not narrowly tailored to protecting individuals from being harassed or tormented. It is not limited to criminalizing malicious invasion of privacy. There is no requirement that the person who distributes the image do so with an intent to harass, threaten or torment the person depicted. Nor is there any requirement that the person depicted suffer serious harm. Without these elements, the legislation criminalizes a substantial amount of First Amendment protected speech.

It applies to artistic, historical and newsworthy images, both in print and online. The bill makes no distinction between a hacker who releases private photos and a publisher who prints images of a politician or public figure engaged in unseemly behavior. It sweeps in not just malicious invaders of privacy, but also publishers who print notable images the person depicted wants to remain private.

The insertion of a vague exception for dissemination of images in the “public interest” does not cure the constitutional defects; rather it makes it more likely that H.B. 6921 is unconstitutional. This is a content-based restriction on speech. An exception for “public interest” material is creating a content-based exception to a content-based law. It compounds the constitutional flaw of the underlying bill. Also, allowing prosecutors and grand juries to decide if an image in the public interest is predicated on some images having greater value than others. The Supreme Court has rejected such balancing test based on the value of the speech.

History

  • The bill was introduced [3] on February 26, 2015, and referred to the Joint Committee on Judiciary. The committee recommended the bill be passed. It was sent to the House for a vote.
  • On May 19, 2015, the House amended [4] the bill to remove the requirement that the dissemination was done with the intent to harm the person depicted. The House passed the bill as amended.
  • On May 27, 2015, Media Coalition sent a memo in opposition [2] to the members of Senate, explaining the constitutional issues with the bill as passed by the House.
  • The Senate passed the bill as amended by the House on June 3, 2015. The bill was sent to Gov. Dan Malloy for his signature.
  • On June 29, 2015, Media Coalition sent a letter to Gov. Malloy [1], asking him to veto the bill.
  • On July 7, 2015, Gov. Malloy signed the bill into law. The bill goes into effect October 1, 2015.

Last updated: Sep 3, 2015