Have you ever searched someone’s home address or phone number? Maybe you were asked out on a date and want to research the guy (or girl) and make sure he or she is not a serial killer. As any Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Attorney can tell you, we’ve all done it. The important things are why we did it and what we’ve done with the information. Have we kept it to ourselves, or spread it around on social media?
Doxing is the practice of collecting through research, and then publishing or broadcasting, personal information about a company or person. Often, this practice involves personally identifying information, such as address, phone numbers, social security number, date of birth, and place of employment, among others.
This data is usually gathered by viewing the person or company’s social media pages. People engaged in this practice also view other publicly accessible databases, and hack into those that are not available for public viewing. They may also conduct phishing schemes and other scams to gain information about the person or company.
Doxing is a legal activity, to the extent that it’s allowable to post someone’s information that is freely available. It’s not necessarily a good or ethical practice, but it is legal. However, it crosses the line when the information was obtained by hacking or other subterfuge, and when it leads to real-world harassment.
Doxing is done for good purposes and for bad. For example, law enforcement officers might publish information about a wanted criminal in the hopes of gaining tips as to his or her whereabouts, to effect an arrest. Or, someone who disagrees with something an author or other public figure has said or done might dox that person in the hopes that others will jump on the information and force the public figure to change their stance.
Doxing is often linked to online shaming and harassment, as well as vigilante justice. There have been numerous cases in recent years, especially on Twitter, where someone has been “called out” and doxed, leading to the loss of the doxed person’s job and reputation, among other things. The victim can be left with emotional trauma from the fear and anxiety from the online bullying and humiliation, especially if they were unfairly targeted. They can also find themselves without a way to pay the rent and feed their children.
The dangerous part of doxing is that many times, the reason behind it is false, and the results are intensely damaging to the victim. Often, something that is said by Person A is misunderstood by Person B, or Person B only has some of the facts. Or, Person B either totally made up an incident or planned it in advance.
A person who doxes someone else may find themselves facing criminal charges of harassment, intimidation, hacking, assault, or invasion of privacy. The victim may sue in civil court, as well.
If you are charged with harassment, the least harsh of the ones listed, you could be facing either a summary charge or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances – what you did, when you did it, and why and how you did it. A summary offense is not as serious as a misdemeanor, and comes with a fine of no more than $300 and a jail sentence of no more than 90 days. If you’re charged with a misdemeanor, you could go to jail for a year and pay a fine of up to $2,500.