If you have spent any time on the internet in recent years, you have almost certainly heard of an individual whose personal information was leaked to the public. This information can include their phone number, their home address, their place of employment, or even the names of their children. Such conduct is referred to as “doxing.”
Why Does Doxing Happen?
Most instances of doxing are carried out to bring shame or embarrassment to the victim. However, it can also be done for more nefarious reasons, such as:
- To get the victim fired from their job
- To cause hardship to a victim’s business
- To extort the victim
- To encourage the public to commit acts of violence on the victim
- To encourage the public to kill the victim
Is Doxing Illegal?
Most reasonable people can agree that doxing another individual for any of the reasons listed above is wrong. But is it illegal? The best way to find out it to take a look at how the matter is addressed under state and federal law:
Doxing Under Federal Law
The United States Code does not contain a law that specifically outlaws doxing. However, the federal government does have a couple of laws on its books that it regularly uses to arrest and convict individuals who participate in doxing attacks. Those laws are:
18 U.S. Code § 2261A makes it illegal for an individual to use an “interactive computer service or electronic communication service” to harass, intimidate, or surveil another person and cause them to suffer emotional distress or fear for their safety.
Under federal law, anyone who is arrested and convicted of stalking can be imprisoned for at least one year. They will also be given a permanent criminal record that may make it difficult for them to find employment or rent an apartment.
Making Public Restricted Personal Information
The crime of making public restricted personal information is outlined in 18 USC § 119. This statute makes it illegal to knowingly release the restricted personal information of a covered person or their family to the public.
For the purposes of this law, “restricted personal information” includes:
- Social Security numbers
- Home addresses
- Home phone numbers
- Home fax numbers
- Mobile phone numbers
- Personal email addresses
The law defines a “covered person” as:
- A juror or witness in any court
- An informant or witness in a federal criminal investigation
- An officer or employee of the United States government or any of its agencies
- An officer or employee of a state or local governmental agency who is assisting with a federal criminal investigation
Individuals who are found guilty of committing this offense will be handed a permanent criminal record. They may also receive a hefty fine and/or be sentenced to up to five years in federal prison.
Doxing Under Ohio State Law
The state of Ohio also does not have a law on its books that specifically addresses doxing. However, the state can usually prosecute people who are involved in doxing under the following statute:
Menacing by Stalking
ORC § 2903.211 makes it illegal to use an “electronic method of remotely transferring information” to post a message that:
- Causes another person to believe that they are in physical danger
- Causes another person to believe that a member of their family is in physical danger
- Causes mental distress to another person
- Causes mental distress to another person’s family member
This statute also makes it illegal to post a message that incites or urges a third party to make another person or their family members suffer mental distress or fear for their safety.
In most instances, violations of ORC § 2903.211 are punishable as a misdemeanor of the first degree. Individuals who are convicted of such an offense may face a permanent criminal record, a fine of up to $500, and a jail sentence of up to six months.
The state of Ohio may choose to prosecute this offense as a felony of the fourth degree if any of the following conditions apply:
- The victim is a minor
- The offender has previously been convicted of this offense
- The offender trespassed on property where the victim lives, works, or attends school
- The offender made a threat of physical harm against the victim
- The offender has a history of violence
- The offender was the subject of a protection order
- The offender had previously been adjudged to represent a substantial risk of physical harm to others
Individuals who are found guilty of felonies of the fourth degree in the state of Ohio may be fined up to $5,000. They will also receive a permanent criminal record and may be sentenced to up to 18 months in state prison.