Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls and the Fight for Privacy on the Internet

by Leeja Miller and Amanda McAllister

 Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls is part memoir, part call to arms by Carrie Goldberg, a victim’s rights lawyer whose Brooklyn law firm, C.A. Goldberg, has seen staggering growth since its founding in 2014. This is due largely to Goldberg’s larger-than-life personality and her fierce and compassionate work representing victims of cybercrime, a notoriously difficult area of law for victims to find any sort of recourse. Nobody’s Victim recounts some of the most grisly cases Goldberg has faced during her career, including her own, as a means to highlight the egregious shortcomings of our legal system’s ability to provide justice to victims of cybercrime. 

Through Goldberg’s tales of hard-fought battles, many of which were lost, the book highlights the feeling of empowerment her clients can find in legal representation, as well as the statutory, technological, and societal obstacles standing in the way of meaningful remedies. Those obstacles include the notorious Communications Decency Act § 230 (“CDA 230”), tort law’s inability to accommodate rapidly-changing tech and the abuse that comes with it, and schools, workplaces, and law enforcement that are woefully undertrained to deal with cyber and sexual abuse. Without well-trained institutions, adequate resources, and well-written laws to hold criminals accountable, victims are left to fend for themselves in a civil law landscape that shields tech companies from liability and provides little recourse against judgment-proof defendants. Despite the bleak picture she paints, Goldberg encourages us all to join the fight, and this book is a testament to the uphill battle yet to unfold.

Cybercrime is rampant, and can include harms such as revenge porn, stalking, doxxing, hacking, swatting, extortion, blackmail, impersonation, and harassment. Due to stagnating laws, inadequate resources, and a widening gap in digital and technological literacy, perpetrators are often able to commit crimes with impunity. The limited remedies in victims’ toolkits often include orders of protection, cease and desist letters, and DMCA copyright takedown notices. These remedies are often woefully inadequate. For example, using copyright law to address serious violations of sexual privacy feels incongruent given the serious harm being inflicted on the victim. Further, DMCA takedown notices may be effective to remove user-generated content on a website platform, but these are only effective if the victim owns the copyright in the photos or videos being disseminated without their permission, and excludes photos and videos taken by ex-partners or those illegally acquired through hacked accounts or webcams.

One of the most notable stories in Nobody’s Victim illustrates how impossible it is to hold not only individual perpetrators to account, but also the tech companies that enable their criminal behavior. Briefly, CDA 230 was passed during the nascent days of the internet in an effort to promote its growth. The federal law provides near total immunity to companies whose websites host content posted by others. That means that companies are not liable for the way users utilize the web, which courts have interpreted to shield companies (like Facebook, for example) from liability for the abuses perpetrated on the site.

One of Goldberg’s clients experienced serious harm at the hands of his ex-boyfriend, who used a dating app to endanger and harass him. The client’s ex-boyfriend used Grindr, a popular dating app used most frequently by the LGBTQ community, to create hundreds of fake accounts in the client’s name and image, soliciting sex and giving out the client’s personal details including his home and work addresses. Because of these fake accounts, hundreds of men showed up at the client’s home and work seeking sex and completely disrupting his personal and professional life. Further, many of these men were instructed by the perpetrator not to accept no as an answer, seriously endangering the client’s safety. Despite over 100 attempts to contact Grindr to report the abuse of their app, the company did nothing to curb the offending activity and protect Goldberg’s client. In an attempt to hold Grindr accountable for its negligence and obtain financial and injunctive relief for her client, Goldberg sued Grindr directly under a creative products liability theory. The Eastern District of New York dismissed the complaint, and the Second Circuit upheld that dismissal, citing, among other things, CDA 230. Since the publication of Nobody’s Victimthe Supreme Court has denied cert and Goldberg’s case against Grindr has reached the end of the line, for now.

Another one of Goldberg’s clients participated in the making of a pornographic film for the website GirlsDoPorn under false pretenses. The owners and operators of GirlsDoPorn operated under a specific MO: they told young women that the videos would never appear online and that they were solely for use in one individual’s overseas collection. Contrary to these representations, GirlsDoPorn would then upload the videos to their website and share their personal information in online forums, violating their privacy and leading to online harassment, stalking, and abuse of the women as well as their families. Just recently, the San Diego Superior Court awarded $12.8 million in damages to 22 of these women, ruling that GirlsDoPorn committed fraudulent acts as “calculated steps to falsely assure prospective models that their videos would never be posted online, come to light in the United States, or be seen by anyone.” A criminal case is soon to follow. 

Using the lessons Goldberg has learned through heartbreaking losses and notable wins, she wrote Nobody’s Victim both to memorialize the clients whose battles she’s helped fight and to call for awareness and change in the law and in the way we support victims. Goldberg continues to fight for her clients through her firm, fiery Twitter account, and lobbying efforts. Most recently, she helped to pass a landmark revenge porn law in New York State. In Nobody’s Victim, Goldberg’s ultimate message is that we’re all in this together, but we’re going to have to fight like hell to ensure individuals’ right to privacy and security in the constantly evolving technological era.

No comments :

Post a Comment