Sending Nude Photos May Now Lead to Jail Time

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Dick Pic“Indecent exposure” is the deliberate exposure of one’s genitals in public, causing others to be alarmed or offended. It’s a crime in most states.

(Exposing a bare breast, on the other hand, is generally not considered indecent exposure, at least when done for breastfeeding purposes.)

But what happens when the “exposure” is digital — especially when the sender is somewhere nearby?


For example, the New York Times reported on how a Manhattan commuter received a picture of a man’s genitals via iPhone AirDrop while she was traveling on a crowded subway car.

In order to send her the photo, the sender (presumably the owner of the genitalia at issue) must have been within 30 feet of her.

Another woman who received such a photo warned her Facebook friends to turn off the AirDrop feature when they were in public, to avoid getting such unwanted photos.

AirDrop can also be set to that it can only receive images from known phone contacts.

Sneak Preview

People can decline to open emails from unknown senders, but with AirDrop, the recipient can’t miss seeing the photo. iPhones show recipients the image as a preview, then ask whether they want to accept or decline it.

Android devices have a similar feature called AirDroid.


Sending unsolicited photos of genitalia to strangers is known as “cyber flashing,” and it’s a growing trend.

The first cyber-flashing incident seems to have happened in the UK in 2015, according to the BBC. That incident also happened on a train.

The New York City Council recently introduced a bill to make it a crime, punishable by a fine of $1000 or up to a year of jail time.

The law would make it illegal

for a person, with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, to send by electronic device an unsolicited intimate image.

Under New York law, it’s already a misdemeanor to harass someone by phone, mail, or written communication. But the law doesn’t say anything about photos.


AirDrop allows users to send images anonymously, to there’s no way to know who sent them.

Also, the sender can’t know specifically who the photos are going to, since nearby phones are only identified by nickname. Phones identified with women’s names may be most likely to be targeted.

As Wired points out, actually enforcing the proposed New York law would be a significant challenge:

Let’s start with the technical. Say you’re sitting on the subway and a stranger sends you a naked photo (ugh) via AirDrop. You might glance around for the culprit, but suppose you can’t pick him out on the crowded car? Your options for identifying the perp using digital fingerprints are now severely limited. Even if the victim shares the contents of their phone, the AirDrop logs wouldn’t be stored on the device, says Sarah Edwards, a digital forensics analyst who wrote a blog post on this very topic. Law enforcement could use third-party software to view those logs, but even so, the digital trail is weak.

Turning It Off

To turn off the AirDrop feature on an iPhone, go to General >> AirDrop and set “Receiving Off” or “Contacts Only.”

Parents might want to make sure that their children’s phones also have the feature turned off.

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