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article imageOp-Ed: It’s time to make DOXing and online harassment criminal offences

By Paul Wallis     Jun 13, 2020 in Internet
London - The law is way too behind online realities. DOXing is the publishing of people’s personal details online. A recent case in the UK basically defines very dangerous issues and risks. This is breach of privacy, with clearly criminal hacking of info.
The case of DOXing is pretty bad, bad enough to be a working example. The British guy called James had 24,000 followers on Twitter. He posted a tweet about Brexiteer Nigel Farage being fired from a radio show. He basically celebrated online, to be met with a barrage of hate by trolls.
He was also DOXed. His address was published online, and phone threats to him and his family followed. He couldn’t take it, and left Twitter due to the clear risks and apparently severe harassment.
This is tyranny by other means. The guy has a right to his opinion. He’s been targeted for that reason alone. That’s not a good outcome in anyone’s language. Online harassment, which is often a “paid service”, should be wiped out completely.
Never mind the politics – This is about the law
Politics is at best a stale subject these days. Who says what usually doesn’t matter, and it’s beside the point in this case. The civil and statutory law issues are what matter here.
The practical side of this trolling is very simple:
1. Accessing anyone’s private information, including addresses and phone numbers, has to be done illegally in any case DOXing.
2. Actual phone calls, messages, etc. are documented through servers. It’s pretty easy to see a wave of incoming trolls like that.
3. Threats and even implied threats are a form of assault under most legal systems worldwide.
4. Harassment is also illegal, although many “democratic” legal systems seem to be very mealy-mouthed about actual enforcement of managing these situations.
DOXing is typically a mix of all these issues. In many cases, harassment is the limit, but of course, there’s more to it than that. People can be put at very serious risk. There’s also the added “passing nutcase” issue, which may actually use an address for an assault, break-in, etc.
No trivial issue
Gamergate was the classic example of DOXing and harassment gone ballistic. This was a particularly ugly episode of the internet at its worsts, a systemic attack on many people. Not much was done about it, and it included a lot of DOXing.
The law, as usual, was asleep at the switch, and nobody affected knew – or knows to this day - what to do about it. The laws must be put in place to provide proper, clear legal avenues of redress and legal protection.
The simplest approach is very easily doable:
• Publication of personal information must be an offence. (It already is, in theory, but it’s badly defined in legal terms.)
• Publishers do not/should not have immunity for user actions when it relates to a criminal offence.
• Any published personal information should be taken down immediately.
• DOXing and threats should be in the same category as criminal assault.
• Any group or organization engaging in DOXing or harassment should be subject to legal penalties.
• Those targeted should also be able to take civil action.
• Fines should be part of penalties. These heroes don’t like losing money.
• Anyone providing services which cause DOXing is also committing an offence in practice.
• Proper SSL security should be in place for all personal data stored by websites and ISPs. It’s much too easy to access this information, even without much hacking.
This is yet another online horror story that should never have been able to happen. Doesn’t matter who you are or what you are, your rights should be protected, and at the very least, protectable.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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