A bitter ex-boyfriend was prosecuted last month after he took revenge on a former lover by posting nude photos of her on Facebook. Privacy experts are quoted in the Sun-Herald as saying that this landmark case represents the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of online crimes which, until now, have largely gone unpunished. The matter was heard before Deputy-Chief Magistrate Jane Mottley who convicted the 20-year-old man and sentenced him to a six month jail term. This was the first conviction for a social networking offence recorded in Australian History. Justifying her sentence, Ms Mottley described the potential for damage to a person’s reputation through social media postings as ‘incalculable’. She explained that the severity of the offence lies in the fact that the viewing and circulation of content placed online cannot be controlled. According to the Sun Herald, she said, “…once it goes on the worldwide web via Facebook it effectively means it is open to anyone who has some link in any way, however remotely.” The fact that people would be able to download the content and view or re-distribute it sometime in the future (even once removed from the offender’s profile) is also cause for concern.
Ms Mottley further explained that given the popularity of social media sites and their "limited (access) boundaries", she felt that the sentence needed to serve as a deterrent, both to the offender and the community at large, from using these sites in a harmful way.
Executive Director of the cyberspace law and policy centre at the University of NSW, David Vaile told the Sun Herald that offences of harassment and indecent publication conducted online are generally not taken as seriously as ‘physical offences’. He suggested however that this case is ‘the tip of the iceberg’, of potential online offences and gave the following analogy: "he didn’t slash her tyres in an act of revenge, he slashed her reputation."
In the wake of this case, Alec Christie, privacy expert at law firm DLA Piper also suggested that the federal government review of privacy law should include online media. The case has drawn attention to the fact that with new technologies have come new opportunities to commit both civil and criminal offences and the law needs to stay abreast of these changes so that people can be held accountable for their actions.