A Brief Historical Timeline of Leaked Pornography

Leaked Pornography has come into the public eye recently with the Celebgate events, but has been in the public eye around for a couple of decades now at least. While there is much more that could potentially be covered, by examining recent examples that feature famous individuals, a general understanding of the evolution of leaked pornography can be gained.

1988- Footage of Rob Lowe engaging in sexual acts with two women was released to the public.

1995-  VHS videotape was stolen from the home of actress Pamela Anderson and musician Tommy Lee (the tape contained explicit video of the couple) during a renovation and was subsequently distributed.

2003-  A distinct change in how leaked pornography is collected occured. Nicholas Jacobson, aka “Myth,” exploited T-Mobile’s network security to steal the personal photos of celebrity customers, such as Paris Hilton by accessing their Sidekick PDAs rather than physically stealing the photographs.

2007- Liz Lee, an underage celebrity, had nude photographs leaked online by her boyfriend. This is also the year in which the term ‘sexting’ was first used in reference to the sharing of sexually explicit content through a texting based medium.

2008- Explicit photos of Edison Chen, an actor from Hong Kong, are released. Chris Chaney exploited the Gmail by guessing usernames and then passwords, via the “forgot my password” feature, to gain access to accounts of various celebrities including Scarlett Johansson. This, along with the “Myth” exploit, can be seen as precursors to the CelebGate event.

2010- Porn Wikileaks is released, which contained the real and stage names as well as names of more than 15,000 porn actors. The actors were justifiably concerned that their sexually transmitted disease histories might be leaked as well. An explicit video of Nazril Irham (AKA Ariel), an Indonesian rock star, is leaked.

2011- Snapchat is created. The app allowed users to send photos, videos, and instant messages that would delete after a set amount of time.

2012- Apps, like Snapsave and Snapspy, appear on app stores. These apps allowed users to exploit Snapchat. Also, Matt Honan, a security expert, was hacked.

2014- Celebgate occurs. The Snappening occurs.

In the last two decades, we have seen a distinct change in how leaked pornography has been gathered over the years. At first, one had to physically collect the photos or videos in order to distribute the pornography. Now, we live in an internet based age where everyone is online and connected. Chris Chaney was able to highlight this effectively. He did not know or even have proximity to the celebrities he hacked. Now, with the Celebgate event and the subsequent Snappening event, the vulnerability of everyone is further highlighted; in a day where everything you do can be exposed online, there is a good chance it will.

What Was The Fappening?

An enormous mass leak of celebrity nudes took place on August 31st and September 1st. The leak initially appeared on a website called 4Chan but spread rapidly. Subsequent leaks occurred on both September 20th and September 26th. When the dust settled, countless private (and many explicit) photographs and videos of over one hundred celebrities had now been released for the whole of the internet to see. It was initially believed that a security exploit in Apple’s “Find My iPhone” feature had given the hacker(s) unlimited attempts to crack the security passwords of the various celebrities and this led to unauthorized access of their iCloud accounts. In fact, Apple was aware of the exploit six months before the initial attack! Following the initial attack, Apple released a statement and determined that it was not the “Find My iPhone” flaw that had resulted in the leaks, but rather an attack on usernames, passwords, and security questions.

These leaks of private celebrity photos became known by some as ‘Celebgate,’ an homage to the Watergate Scandal. Others, thanks to anonymous social media websites such as Reddit and 4Chan, refer to this event as “The Fappening,” a crude compound of ‘fap’ (to masturbate) and ‘happening’. The waves of leaks were dubbed ‘cummings’ in reference to sexual climaxes. These leaks captured media attention almost immediately and this has helped to shed some light on some privacy problems the ordinary internet user might be oblivious to as it is not just celebrities who are at risk for these attacks. They can target anyone, and it was only the fame and sheer amount of people affected that brought the even into the public spotlight.

Lost to the Web: Legal Recourse for Leaked Pornography

Simply put, there is no way to completely remove an image or video from the Internet. This is true in both the technical sense and a legal sense. This is the tough reality that victims of leaked pornography face.

Technologically speaking, the sheer amount of effort and expense needed to locate every single copy of a piece of information, such as a photo, that has surfaced on the Internet and then remove it to prevent further distribution is simply incomprehensible. This is why companies such as Google, under pressure from European courts, have focused their attentions on trying to de-index objectionable material from their service. However, this is simply a Band-Aid for the issue as those who have saved the material to their hard drives can still spread it through other means.

At the most basic level, an offender who perpetrated a leak by breaking into an account would have violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. § 1030). This act is more of an all-encompassing way to prosecute “hackers.” The offenders could also have violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (18 U.S.C. § 2510-22), which addresses the interception of communication.

The events of a trial would most likely mirror the case of Cristopher Chaney, who “hacked” into the accounts of over fifty people, many of whom were associated with the entertainment industry. Chaney was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison along with $66,179 in restitution for a number of things including wiretapping and unauthorized access to protected computers. However his conviction did not stop the distribution of the pictures.

To stop distribution, copyright laws, such as the Digital Millennium Act, could be used as a way to bar further distribution of an image. Civil courts can be used to get an injunction against hosting websites but this presents problems such as the hurdles facing those trying to enforce injunctions on third parties; one example of this being online defamation cases. The legal precedent in this area can be spotty, with much debate over who owns the copyright to photos, the subject or the photographer. Examples of DMCA letters exist that can be used by victims to force websites to take down images.

Regardless of the charges that are brought forth against perpetrators and the websites that are forced to remove the images, the pictures have already been leaked. Unless the victim has the time and money to invest in finding the websites that have the images, it would be difficult to get all the publically available images taken down. Again, once they are out there, it is very unlikely they will ever go away.