Who has spread my sexual video? Police investigations to follow the sinuous trail of viral images

Loreto saw in early 2017 how everyone around him, his partner, his ex-wife and some co-workers, received intimate images of him that he had sent a friend with whom he had sex for a while a few months ago. To blackmail her, this person sent several photos via WhatsApp to dozens of people from the town where they lived and the trace of the images could be lost indefinitely on the internet. The accused received a sentence of seven months in prison for a crime of revealing secrets.

Situations like this proliferate in court files and some end up taking on public relevance, as has happened recently. with the actor Santi Millán. Spanish judges handed down 57 convictions for revealing secrets through information technology in 2018, 89 in 2019 and 91 in 2020, according to the Report of the State Attorney General's Office.

In the case of Loreto, because the accused had previously threatened to spread the images and because he knew where they originally came from, locating him was easy, but on other occasions the process of tracing the initial origin of a video forwarded thousands of times by WhatsApp or other platforms is much more complex. The Civil Guard has units formed on the one hand by technological investigation agents and on the other by teams specialized in women and minors to carry out this type of investigation.

"The most common thing is that the injured person comes to us to report and, from there, we begin the investigation," explains Daniel Moreno, head of the Women-Minor Team (Emume) of the Civil Guard. “In each command there are specialists in the technological issue, due to the technical complexity, and specialists in dealing with victims, because they may be sensitive victims and need special support. In some cases, the same person can do all the research, and sometimes more people are needed,” he adds.

The first thing that the agents ask the victims is an exhaustive detail of all the information they may have about the video, the suspect, if they know him, or who they think may have initially disseminated it: “What has he disseminated, to whom, to whom? through what account, what social network or platform, all the data you can provide”.

Next, the technical teams start tracking the author's IP to locate where the content was uploaded from and ask service providers (platforms like Google, Facebook, Apple...) for more precise information about the user. The more times the content has been forwarded, the more difficult it is to locate because the metadata is lost and this prevents, for example, geolocating the original sender. The process is even more complicated with platforms like Telegram, which is hosted in Russia and only provides information for terrorism matters.

Moreno points out that the most common profile found in the commands is that of adolescents who have relationships and are recorded in a consensual way. “Generally the images have been obtained in a voluntary, consented way. The problem is that later, either because the couple breaks up or for another reason, one of the people decides to spread it this time, yes, without knowing it,” explains this agent, who says that in most cases the victim is not aware that the video is circulating until it comes to him by a third person.

In the vast majority of cases, moreover, the victim is a woman. The Civil Guard has launched an awareness and prevention program with talks in schools. There, in addition to giving talks about what can and cannot be done and how to report, the agents have begun to receive complaints from adolescents who come to tell them about situations of this type.

The investigation based on the complaint has a very technical part and another of personal approach once the terminal from which the videos were sent is more or less clear. “Since it is often about adolescents, when you locate the person, it does not match the profile you have, because perhaps it is in the name of the father or mother. There is a final verification task, before detection”, he completes.

In 2017, an enraged ex-boyfriend posted sexual photos and videos on the website pasion.com that he kept on his former partner's mobile. In the post, he indicated the victim's phone number and posted an offer of sexual services for a minimal fee. A court in Cádiz sentenced him last year for these events to nine months in prison and imposed a two-year restraining order to at least 300 meters and a ban on communicating with the victim.

These types of acts are misqualified as porn revenge or revenge porn. "It's the same, a crime of revealing secrets, but since it's pages with a sexual connotation it would aggravate the situation a bit," says Moreno, who also comments that the technical maneuvers in this case are somewhat more complicated. “You try either by locating the upload IP or with other means of technological investigation, geolocation, to discover where that ad was uploaded from, etc. But of course, these providers do not collaborate in the same way, they are in a legal limbo”, he explains.

All these behaviors are regulated by article 197.7 of the Penal Code, introduced in the 2015 reform: "Whoever, without authorization from the affected person, will be punished with a prison sentence of three months to one year or a fine of six to twelve months. , disseminate, reveal or transfer to third parties images or audiovisual recordings of the one obtained with their consent in a home or in any other place beyond the reach of third parties, when the disclosure seriously undermines the personal privacy of that person. This regulation leaves the door open for the sentence to also fall on the people who receive the video and send it back to third parties.

The text of the law also includes aggravating circumstances in the event that the dissemination has been carried out by a partner or an ex-partner: "The penalty will be imposed in its upper half when the acts have been committed by the spouse or by a person who is or has been been linked to him by a similar affective relationship, even without living together, the victim was a minor or a person with a disability in need of special protection, or the acts were committed for profit.”

In most of the sentences consulted by this newspaper for similar crimes, the diffusion of the images was not massive and therefore it was easier to identify the author. As the Civil Guard explains, the more the images circulate, the more complicated it is to trace the origin, as it happened with the Iveco worker who committed suicide after a sexual video of him was broadcast in his company. The 30-year-old woman took her own life after several anxiety attacks at her work when she discovered that a video of hers from five years ago was circulating massively among her co-workers and that it had even reached her husband her.

At that time, the Prosecutor's Office initiated an investigation through the Computer Crimes room and asked the National Police to undertake the pertinent investigations. Among other things, the agents analyzed the video and its metadata and took a statement from an ex-boyfriend of the victim who gave himself up voluntarily and was eventually released without charge. The judge decided to file the case in January 2020 due to "lack of a known perpetrator" in the case of the crime of revealing secrets and because there was no complaint in the crime of degrading treatment. The investigation could not prove how many people came to see the video or reach the origin of the broadcast.

However, when it is possible to know who is the author of these acts, the judges usually charge harshly against these behaviors. In the case of Loreto's friend who spread his sexual videos in his family and work environment, the magistrates of the Provincial Court of Gipuzkoa understood that the prison sentence was fully justified because he revealed images that "appeal to one of the spheres of personal intimacy of greater significance and transcendence”; because he "profoundly betrayed the trust that it had placed in his personal one" and because he spread them to a plurality of people "with a particularly significant importance in Loreto's life."

The judges also insisted that the criminal acts were directed "to undermine self-esteem, but also the personal, work, and social image" of the victim and were carried out in this case in a very small town "so the reputational damage to his social image was (...) very relevant”.

Convictions for these crimes have also been increasing slightly in recent years. According to the annual report of the Prosecutor's Office, in 2018, 400 judicial proceedings were opened for crimes of disclosure of secrets in ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) and there were 57 convictions; while a year later these initiations amounted to 596 and convictions to 89. In 2020, the last year for which there is data, the procedures rose to 688 and the judges issued 91 convictions.

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