You might not be familiar with the term doxing, but you might already be a victim of a doxer. Doxing involves compiling Personally Identifiable Information (PII) about a person and disclosing that information publicly. Even though there are no specific federal or state laws that make doxing illegal, doxing can get you arrested for related crimes.
Why Do People Engage in Doxing?
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the reasons for doxing include:
- Identity theft
Many cases of doxing involve personal reasons. For instance, a person might release your personal information to get you fired from your job or embarrass you with family and friends. An ex-partner might engage in doxing to break up a new relationship or to gain revenge.
Most people agree that releasing private or personal information online without a person’s consent is never acceptable. However, what are the laws that prevent a person from doxing another person?
Ohio Laws Related to Doxing
Ohio does not have a specific law that makes doxing illegal. However, the Menacing by Stalking statute gives the state the ability to charge and prosecute someone involved in doxing.
The Menacing by Stalking law states that it is illegal to use an electronic method to remotely transfer information to post messages that would cause another person to:
- Experience mental distress
- Experience mental distress because of information posted about a family member
- Believe they are in physical danger
- Believe that a member of a person’s family is in physical danger
- Make another person or that person’s family member to experience mental distress or fear for their safety
Most crimes for doxing that are charged under this statute are misdemeanors in the first degree. You can be sentenced to jail for up to six months, pay a fine of up to $500, and have a permanent criminal record for a doxing conviction under the Menacing by Stalking statute.
However, the charge might increase to a fourth-degree felony under specific conditions.
You could be charged with felony doxing if you:
- Targeted a minor
- Trespassed on the property where the victim resides, works, or attends school
- Are subject to a protective order
- Have previous convictions for this criminal offense
- Threatened the victim with physical harm
- Were previously judged to pose a substantial risk of physical harm to others
- Have a history of violence
Convictions for doxing as a fourth-degree felony carry prison sentences up to 18 months and a fine of up to $5,000.
Federal Laws Related to Doxing
There are also no federal laws that specifically relate to doxing. However, federal prosecutors use two federal statutes to charge individuals who are guilty of doxing.
The first federal statute (18 U.S.Code §119) makes it illegal to knowingly release to the public the restricted personal information of a covered person or their family member. A covered person includes:
- Employees and officers of the U.S. government or its agencies
- Employees and officers of local and state government agencies who are assisting with a federal criminal investigation
- Witnesses and jurors in court
- Witnesses and informants in federal criminal investigations
Protected personal information includes Social Security numbers, home addresses, telephone & fax numbers, and personal email addresses.
The federal stalking statute (18 U.S. Code §2261A) makes it illegal to use an electronic communication service or interactive computer service to surveil, harass, intimidate or cause another person to fear for their safety or experience emotional distress.
Federal charges are serious. A conviction could result in incarceration in a federal prison, fines, and a criminal record.
Have You Been Charged with Doxing?
If you are the subject of a doxing investigation or you are arrested for doxing, be very careful what you say. It is best to remain silent except for asking for a criminal defense lawyer.
You could have one or more defenses to the doxing charge. However, if you talk to the police or investigators, you could make matters worse. Your statements could be used against you.
Potential defenses to doxing charges include:
- The facts of the case do not prove the legal requirements of the statutes used to charge you with a crime
- You were not the person who released the information to the public
- The information posted is not protected information or personally identifiable information
- The information posted was considered public information already available online
As doxing continues to evolve, lawmakers and courts will address the charges in more detail. Until then, the legality of doxing is an area that leaves room to argue a variety of defenses. Before pleading guilty to doxing, contact a criminal lawyer to discuss your rights and defense options.