Doxing: What Can Be Done About It?

Doxing has become a major problem on the internet since it usually violates the victim’s privacy rights. It is a form of unwarranted harassment and stalking on the web as the culprit shares the victim’s personal information with the general public and encourages them to target the victim. Hence, the victim could feel exposed on the internet and be left without legal protection.

The doxing party reveals personal information about a person or legal entity on the web in a typical case. The doxing party is usually savvy in extracting personal information from third-party websites or in hacking electronic devices. This personal or private information is illegally obtained in violation of the victim’s privacy in an effort to annoy or harass him or her for no legitimate purpose. In other words, it is an act that constitutes “harassment” under the applicable statutes such as California Code of Civil Procedure section 527.6.

There have been many doxing incidents in the past years. For example, there was doxing of abortion providers wherein their personal information was exposed to the general public. The court held this violation was considered an incitement to violence and not subject to free speech rights. Hacktivists called the “Anonymous Group” have been responsible for exposing information of law enforcement agents as an effort to retaliate against investigations. They have also released information about the Ku Klux Klan in reference to the shooting of Michael Brown. In addition, there have been misidentification incidents in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing on Reddit where Sunil Tripathi was mistakenly identified as a suspect.

There have been cases were the doxing party – i.e., culprit – has been arrested for disseminating private information about congressional legislators. For example, a House of Representatives intern was charged and arrested under 18 U.S.C. § 119 for posting confidential information such as residential addresses and private mobile numbers for Senators Lindsey Graham and Orrin Hatch. In another case, Mir Islam was sentenced to twenty-four months in prison on three federal charges for conspiracy to commit crimes related to “swatting” and “doxing” of several victims. He pleaded guilty to the crimes which stemmed from online harassment and communicating a false shooting and bomb threat on a university campus.

There are several types of doxing: First, it could stem from publishing private or confidential information to annoy, harass, or intimidate the victim. Second, it could stem from publishing private or confidential information to cause fear of violence. Third, it could stem from publishing private or confidential information to incite violence. Now, these types of doxing incidents are not considered as so-called “protected activities” under any state or federal laws. So, in most cases, the culprit cannot argue his or her activities are constitutionally protected activities.

There are not many legal remedies for doxing victims sincere there are no directly relevant state or federal statutes. At this point, the Interstate Communications Act (codified under 18 U.S.C. § 875) makes it illegal to transmit in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing a demand or request for ransom or reward for the release of a kidnapped person. Also, the Interstate Stalking Act (codified under 18 U.S.C. § 2261A) is intended to prohibit any kind of harassment across state borders but it does not specifically address doxing. However, not all doxing incidents involve a direct threat of harm or bodily injury.

Our internet and technology lawyers have been prosecuting and defending legal actions in state and federal courts and are available to speak with their clients. Our law firm assists clients in matters related to privacy and cybersecurity and the applicable state, federal, and international laws. Please contact our law firm to speak with an internet attorney at your earliest convenience.