In the wake of the recent military nude photo scandal, in which more than 30,000 photos of woman service members were shared without their consent, the House passed a bill on Wednesday that would prohibit the nonconsensual sharing of nude photos in the military. The Protecting the Rights of Individuals Against Technological Exploitation Act, sponsored by Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona, passed unanimously, 481-0.
“The Neanderthals who committed these acts are not emblematic of the vast majority of decent and honorable service members who serve our nation,” McSally said. “However, the notion that any service member would think it is acceptable to upload, view, or comment on nude photos of their fellow service members is a serious problem that must be fixed.”
McSally introduced the PRIVATE Act in April in response to the uncovering of the Marines United Facebook page, where service members had been sharing sexually explicit photos of their peers, taken or posted without consent. The bill “defines when photo sharing is a crime, which is not clear in current law, and addresses questions related to freedom of speech and intent,” she said at the time. The PRIVATE Act updates the Uniform Code of Military Justice, closing a loophole that technically allowed service members to share intimate photos with others if the photos had been taken consensually.
However, the bill will not move to the Senate. Instead, according to staff of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), the Democratic co-lead on the bill, the PRIVATE Act will be absorbed in the next draft of the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual federal military budget passed by Congress every year. Both the House and the Senate vote on independent drafts of the NDAA, before consolidating them into one bill, which then passes into law. “It’s two unrelated things,” an aide said. “We’re thrilled it passed the House, but it will probably move this way.”
Nonetheless, Speier’s staff is “optimistic” that the PRIVATE Act will become law by way of the NDAA because of the unanimous, bi-partisan support in the House. President Obama signed the 2017 NDAA into law last December.
According to Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group against sexual assault in the military, if the PRIVATE Act becomes law, it cannot be applied retroactively. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched an investigation into the recent Marines United incident, administering five nonjudicial punishments and finding at least 16 other suspects.
Speier, who had introduced legislation similar to the PRIVATE Act in March, last year introduced a bill that would extend federal protections for victims of nonconsensual pornography. She is expected to reintroduce that bill on June 19. Referring the the success of the PRIVATE Act, her aide said, “We hope this bill would help push that bill forward.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Rep. Speier is a cosponsor of the PRIVATE Act. She is a co-lead on the bill.