Sex Toys At CES2020 Can Raise Legal Issues

Sex ToysKlausHausmann / Pixabay

Sex Toys At CES2020 Can Raise Legal Issues; Invasion of Privacy, Rape, Sexual Assault, CFAA, Citizenship, Included

WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 8, 2020) – CES2020, the world’s largest tech event, and now taking place in Las Vegas, has changed its policies, and now permits exhibits and authorizes awards for “sex tech” devices, but these products have already raised important and challenging legal issues, and promise to cause additional ones in the near future, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who helped persuade the House of Representatives to pass a bill aimed at one of the most egregious ones.

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Sex toys issues

Last year a sex device called the Ose Personal Massager - which attempts to mimic the human touch by simultaneously stimulating the G-spot and the clitoris with a "come hither" motion rather than vibration - won a CES innovation award. But the award was later taken away for allegedly violating the organization policies prohibiting "immoral, obscene, indecent, profane" products. After a public outcry about the tech industry's lack of understanding and interest in sexual health technology, especially for women, the award was reinstated, and the door was opened to a variety of innovative sexual devices.

In speeches as well as formal legal presentations Banzhaf has warned that Teledildonics, especially when also combined with screwdriving, creates new opportunities for hackers to invade the vaginal or even rectal privacy of early-adapter sex enthusiasts, including putting real time pictures of the insides of their vaginas or rectums on the Internet, or even engaging in invasions which might constitute the felony crimes of sexual assault or rape, or violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act [CFAA].

Indeed, one manufacturer of a new breed of smart dildo, dubbed the "Lexus of Sex Toys," has already been forced to pay civil damages to its digitally spied-upon victims, as described on a legal website in a piece entitled "The Case of the Vibrator That Knew Too Much," quoting Prof. Banzhaf.

In another widely cited piece, Banzhaf warned about problems now already occurring where cyber brothels are able to operate perfectly legally by providing very lifelike sex robots [sexbots] - which customers actually prefer, rather than real female prostitutes (which would make the operation illegal).

Companies are now also able to provide realistic sexbots resembling young children, so that perverts can either satisfy the unusual sexual desires without harming children (according to some), or develop a taste for sex with toddlers and go on to molest real children (according to others).  Both the robotic young children and the adult females are reportedly now able to be programmed to act as if they are being raped to enhance the enjoyment - and perhaps the addictive effect - of using them.

Teledildoes, sex toys designed to be used/worn by both males and females, can be controlled by a partner thousands of miles away using a computer or cell phone app which is linked via the Internet to a receptor app on the cell phone of the user.  These novel devices allow the distant partner to control the rate, intensity, and other aspects of the sexual simulation being provided to the user of the device.

Moreover, some have a tiny camera which can be inserted to show the effects of the simulation.  Indeed, one says: "The camera not only allows you know the subtle changes inside of your private areas. You can also record and share the wonderful sex adventure to your partner via pictures or videos."

But, like virtually anything else connected to the Internet, the devices can be hacked, with the hacker then able to take over control of the sex toy from the intended operator/partner, and possibly view (and/or even re-post to an Internet site) streaming video of the inside of the user's vagina.  Both would presumably constitute at least an illegal invasion of the user's privacy.

More seriously, legal experts have suggested that the hacker could even be charged with sexual assault through impersonation, similar to criminal cases where a perpetrator was prosecuted for pretending to be the victim's lover in order to be able to penetrate her.

Other possible precedents are suggested by two recent cases in which transgender F2M men used a dildo to have sex relations with women who believed their partners to be anatomical males.  Both were guilty of sexual assault, and one was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Now, in the most recent development, a new study ["VULNERABILITY ADVISORY - Compromising Unencrypted Butt Plug Comms"] shows how someone using such a device - more commonly a remote controlled "butt plug," but probably also applicable to a remote controlled vaginal simulator - can be victimized by a technique known in hacker circles as "screwdriving."

Screwdriving, a play on the word wardriving, which refers to the drive-by stealing of other people's Wi-Fi, allows a person using a cell phone detection app to determine if anyone nearby in a public place is wearing a vibrating butt plug controlled via Bluetooth.

If so, the hacker, using a different app, might be able to seize control, and provide signals to the plug varying the frequency and intensity of its vibrations.  Then, similar to the analysis above, that action might constitute sex assault, perhaps even a form of cyber rape. However, others believe that the more appropriate charge would be a violation of the CFAA, shifting the focus of the crime from the human victim to the owner of the mini-computer in the butt plug.

Other novel legal issues were raised when Saudi Arabia, apparently as a publicity gimmick, granted citizenship to a sexbot.  But many international treaties, which legally bind all signatory countries, grant a variety of legal rights to "citizens of either country," "citizens" of other countries, etc.

So other countries which have either bilateral or multilateral treaties with Saudi Arabia could be required by international law to honor such rights for the robot to whom citizenship has been granted named "Sophia."

But recognition under international law that a specific robot is a citizen entitled to legal rights under a treaty implies that at least other similar robots would have the same legal rights, argues Banzhaf, citing corporations and both legal and illegal aliens in the U.S. who are nevertheless protected as "persons."

Although writing now as a law professor, Banzhaf was himself a hacker, and was recently credited with helping to inspire hacker terminology after he learned and practiced hacking at MIT in the 1950s even before there was an Internet or any personal computers.

He also obtained the first copyright ever registered on computer programs, and was instrumental in having U.S. copyright law amended to deal with computers and data processing.

Asked why hacking a cyber dildo to peer inside a woman's vagina should be illegal, Banzhaf notes that many jurisdictions have made upskirting - taking pictures underneath a woman's skirt  - a crime, even though the criminal usually gets to see less than he would at most public beaches.

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About the Author

JOHN F. BANZHAF
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D. Professor of Public Interest Law George Washington University Law School, FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor, Fellow, World Technology Network, Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) 2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA (202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418 http://banzhaf.net/ jbanzhaf@law.gwu.edu