Anonymous web surfers who upload nude photos online are like bacteria, says one online privacy expert — when laws and policing change, they adapt to avoid getting caught.

That's the sobering assessment of Elisa D'Amico regarding the challenge facing law enforcement in an age of increasing digital complexity.

"Because the changes in law are so slow-moving, it's allowing them time to advance and to change what they're doing. Sort of like bacteria," D'Amico said in an interview.

Her comments come following a CBC News investigation that found over 200 nude or semi-nude images of dozens of women on a website specifically targeting Montreal women.

D'Amico, a lawyer who provides pro-bono help to victims of cyber-intimidation, says the evolving world of technology is just one of the challenges in catching people who post naked photos.

The internet knows no borders, users are hard to track and not all website administrators are co-operative, she said. 

"It's completely, absolutely boundless. And that's the scary part about it," she said.

Minors vulnerable 

In Montreal, police are already seeing an increase in numbers of reported cases of stolen or distributed nude photos — especially among minors, says major crime unit Cmdr. Michel Bourque.

Michel Bourque

Cmdr. Michel Bourque with the Montreal police warns people about compromising photos. 'As soon as those images are released, then you don't have any control of them.' (Charles Contant/CBC )

Another expert, a Toronto-based lawyer specializing in privacy litigation, says it's a growing problem across the country.

"It's unfortunately becoming increasingly common just because of changes in the way we use technology, changes in the way we use social media," said Lara Guest.

"It is becoming a real issue for Canadians."

How are police handling it?

Anyone caught distributing nude images without consent could be found guilty of a new anti-cyber intimidation law passed in 2014. Offenders could face up to five years in prison.

It's possible they could also be charged under other Criminal Code provisions as well.

Bourque said investigations are done on a case-by-case basis, as often there's context behind the crime. The perpetrator could be an ex-boyfriend, for example, and harassment charges might apply.

In Montreal, police teams are going into schools, telling students they should reconsider before taking and sending compromising images of themselves. 

It's not a matter of blaming the victim, Bourque said, but people — particularly minors — should think twice before engaging in this kind of activity.

"As soon as those images are released, then you don't have any control of them," Bourque said.

McGill

A McGill University thread exists to solicit suggestive images of women who attend the university.

Bourque would not comment on whether police are investigating the website that trades nude photos of Montreal-area women. CBC News is not naming the website to avoid driving traffic to it.

According to Bourque, when police are alerted to non-consensual, explicit photos, they can contact the internet provider or web page to investigate further.

But even if the investigation is successful in removing the images from a particular page, there's no guarantee they won't reappear elsewhere on the internet.

"It's very hard to withdraw them completely and ensure there's no other images that circulate," said Bourque.

Some websites unhelpful

Guest said some websites, including Google, PornHub and Twitter, will take down non-consensual images if a request is made. 

Other websites, including the one that trades images of nude Montreal women, are less receptive to such requests.

"Some of these site administrators are great and up to date, and some don't take these kinds of notices seriously," said Guest.

She recommends that anyone who is a victim should take careful notes of what images are posted.

If a victim chooses to litigate, the court also looks favourably on people who have asked to have the photo taken down — even if it's unlikely site administrators will oblige.

Lise Thériault

Lise Thériault, minister for the status of women, says she's shocked by a website that exists to trade nude photos of Montreal women. (CBC)

For her part, Quebec's minister responsible for the status for women issued a statement saying she was troubled by the existence of a website that solicits and trades nudes of Montreal women.

"The revelations of CBC News are shocking," Lise Thériault said.

"As all citizens, women have a right to privacy and are entitled to respect and dignity."