Doxing, the act of posting a person’s identifying information online, can have serious consequences, exposing its victims to threats and harassment. Despite these risks, it exists in a legal grey area in most states. But if a person who is doxed finds themselves threatened, harassed, or worse, the one who exposed their private information could be subject to civil or even criminal liability.
The question of the legality of doxing came to the fore this week because of Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims’ offer of money for identifying the pro-life activists outside a Planned Parenthood near his home. If one of those protestors were then harassed — by anyone other than Sims himself — Sims could find himself in serious legal trouble.
“His behavior was despicable and outrageous,” Pennsylvania Republican party communications director Jason Gottesman told The Daily Caller. “We strongly encourage law enforcement to look into this. That’s their job.”
The state party called for the investigation in a letter sent earlier this week to Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, and U.S. Attorney William McSwain. (RELATED: The Planned Parenthood Where Brian Sims Harassed Pro Lifers Is A Mess)
Gottesman was not optimistic about the liberal Krasner opening an investigation into Sims’ conduct in front of a local Planned Parenthood. (RELATED: Pennsylvania Democrat Brian Sims Slammed For Non-Apology Attacking Pro-Lifers)
“In Philadelphia, you have a district attorney who has turned his office into a place for Progressive politics,” Gotteman said.
Doxing is a crime if it is a component of a larger crime, like a predicate to stalking or extortion, or criminal harassment.
According to Pennsylvania state law, it’s unlikely that Sims would ever be carried off in handcuffs. The office of Scarpello & LaTour, a defense firm located in Pennsylvania wrote on their website earlier this month that because doxing is a relatively new phenomenon of the social media area, it is likely not prosecutable.
The United States law codes are well over 200 years old. In comparison doxing is a very recent tactic which utilizes technology in a way that American lawmakers are still catching up to. The activity is certainly ethically questionable, but regarding the law and legal repercussions, it is typically legal. What that means is it is within one’s legal rights to find someone else’s publicly available information and post it online. While that doxer may face a lot of derision for doing that, it doesn’t break the law.
Chris Hahn, a New York based attorney said that state legislatures across the country need to take up laws to prevent doxing.
“This is one of those issues where the law needs to catch up to the times,” Hahn said.
But, what about civil liability?
Hahn said that while doxing is despicable, civil penalties are unlikely.
“In order for their to be a civil case, you would have to prove that there was some kind of damages,” Hahn said.
There could be civil liability if it constitutes a tort like invasion of property or libel, but it’s not clear either would apply here.
In conclusion, unless it can be demonstrated that damages occurred as a direct result of Sims’ actions, it’s unlikely that he would face legal ramifications.
Sims caused a firestorm on social media after he posted a video of him haranguing an elderly lady protesting at a local Planned Parenthood. Sims’ actions drew attention to a Facebook video he posted last month where he offered a cash reward for anybody with personal information on two pro-life teenagers.
“What we’ve got here is a bunch of … pseudo-Christian protesters who’ve been out here shaming young girls for being here,” Sims said in the video. “So, here’s the deal, I’ve got $100 to anybody who will identify these three, and I will donate to Planned Parenthood.”
Facebook deleted the video after it had already been on their platform for a month.
Sims’ office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.