You may have heard about someone getting “doxed” or someone “doxing” a person. But what does that mean, and most importantly, is it illegal in Texas? Doxing, also spelled “doxxing,” is a form of cyberbullying that is surging in popularity across the state and country. In this blog post, we are going to explain what it is, what crimes are related to the practice of doxing, and what to do if you are accused of doxing in Texas.
What is Doxing?
Doxing, short for “dropping dox,” is a term that originates from the abbreviated form of documents or “dox.” It refers to the act of spreading or posting private information about individuals or organizations to the public, mostly through the Internet. Doxing is committed without the victim’s knowledge or consent, and it is often done to harass or get revenge. The practice of doxing has gained popularity and notoriety over the years, and while the practice of doxing is not explicitly illegal in Texas (yet), there are various crimes that can stem from the act of doxing.
What are some Examples of Doxxing?
While doxing ranges in severity, it basically entails releasing private or personal information to the public in an attempt to harass, extort, or shame. Examples include:
- Releasing personal photos of an individual
- Posting an individual’s phone number or address on the Internet
- Releasing information about an individual’s family, work or other private information
- Encouraging others to use released information to harass an individual
You may remember many years ago when creepy distorted videos of individuals wearing Guy Fawkes masks were being circulated on social media. These individuals are a part of the hactivist group, “Anonymous,” which is a collective group of online hackers who release private information or “dox” individuals or groups for political purposes, such as KKK members and law enforcement members.
More recently, the group reemerged to target the Minneapolis police department’s website in protest for the death of George Floyd. While this is an extreme example of doxing, other forms can be as simple as when news anchor Lou Dobbs tweeted the address and phone number of Jessica Leeds, a 74-year-old woman who told the New York Times Donald Trump groped her three decades ago.
Is Doxing Illegal in Texas?
Because doxing is a relatively new phenomenon that is constantly evolving, there is currently no specific law that makes doxing in Texas illegal. However, various charges can stem from doxing including harassment, cyberbullying, stalking, and swatting.
What Charges Can Stem from Doxing in Texas?
Although there is not a specific charge for doxing in Texas, there are a multitude of charges that can be filed against someone engaged in doxing. Some include:
- Harassment: Harassment is a common charge that results from doxing. In the state of Texas, harassment is described in Penal Code Section 42.07 as an intent to “harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass” another person. If the intent of the alleged perpetrator includes any of the above when doxing, they could be charged with harassment. Harassment is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and $2,000 in fines. However it can be elevated to a Class A if the defendant has a previous conviction for harassment.
- Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying takes place when someone is bullied, harassed, or threatened over the Internet or on social media. This crime typically applies to teenagers and young adults. Cyberbullying can stem from doxing if any personal information of the alleged victim is shared without consent in order to harass them or bully them. Although punishments typically are handled by schools, if the harassment is severe enough, criminal charges can be filed under the harassment statute.
- Stalking: Stalking is a crime defined by Section 42.072 of the Texas Penal code. It occurs when a person on more than one occasion, engages in actions which are directed at one specific person or a person’s family or property, which is done with the intent to cause fear of death or serious bodily injury in the person being threatened. Essentially, the defendant must make repeated actions that cause fear of harm toward a specific person or their family – this can be done in person and online. Stalking in the state of Texas is considered a third-degree felony which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. People with a previous criminal record could have their charge elevated to a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.
- Swatting: Swatting involves calling 911 and reporting a fake emergency in order for police to respond to a specific address, usually to prank or harass an individual. A person is guilty of swatting under Texas Penal Code Section 42.061 if they call 911 when there is not an emergency. Swatting is classified as a Class B misdemeanor and can involve up to 180 days in jail and $2,000 in fines.
- Targeting a Police Officer: After the tragic killing of five police officers in Dallas in 2016, Texas passed a law making threats and violence towards law enforcement officers hate crimes – in person or online. Under HB 2908, the punishment for threatening a police officer was elevated from a misdemeanor to a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in jail. Punishments can be increased even more if prosecutors can prove the offender specifically targeted a police officer because of their occupation.
What Federal Charges Could Stem from Doxing?
- Stalking: The federal government also has an anti-stalking law, which is found under 18 USC 2261A. While similar to Texas’ stalking law, the main difference is that the alleged offender would violate federal law if they traveled across state lines while stalking, or if the offender used a telephone, the Internet, or the US Postal Service to stalk.So, if an individual only stalked by showing up to a house multiple times in Texas, they would not violate the federal stalking law. However, if any form of communication to the alleged victim took place over the phone, internet, or mail, or if the victim lived in a different state, the alleged offender could be guilty under federal law. A person convicted of stalking under federal law could face up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
- Protecting Individuals Performing Certain Official Duties: 18 USC 119 is perhaps the most explicit in making doxing illegal, however, it only applies to “covered” persons. Under this law, it is illegal to knowingly make restricted personal information about a covered person or their family available with the intent to threaten, intimidate, or incite violence toward that individual.A covered person is any officer or employee of the United States government, including soldiers. It also applies to those working with such employees in the performance of their duties, any member of the US Court System, or any informant or witness in a federal criminal investigation. The punishment for violating this law is up to 5 years in prison and potential fines.
- Interstate Communications Statute: The Interstate Communications Statue, found under 18 U.S. Code 875, contains laws preventing the extortion of individuals through electronic communication forms. While it contains four sections, the one most relevant to doxing is found in section D, which states the illegality of making any threat to injure the property or reputation of another individual over some electronic communication medium, with the intent to extort a certain individual.In simpler terms, this statute makes it illegal to attempt to extort someone by threatening to release information about them that could damage their reputation. The punishment for violating the Interstate Communications Statute is up to two years in prison and fines.
What are Some Examples of Individuals Who have been Arrested for Doxing?
- Two men in New York were arrested in September of 2019 for releasing the home addresses and social security numbers of more than 36 law enforcement officers. They were charged with related crimes such as harassment and stalking.
- A U.S. House of Representatives intern was arrested in October of 2018 for releasing the home addresses and phone numbers of several Republican lawmakers in an attempt to intimidate them during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
- A man from New York was arrested for doxing and swatting in July of 2016 for releasing the information of more than 50 individuals and making false bomb threats to a university in Arizona. He was charged federally and was sentenced to 2 years in federal prison.
Has Legislation Been Proposed to Make Doxing in Texas a Specific Crime?
Yes, in recent years, bills have been proposed that would make doxing in Texas a crime and carry specific punishments. Although they gained traction, none have been passed by the Texas legislature.
Accused of a Doxing-Related Crime in Texas? Contact Us.
If you or a loved one is facing charges related to doxing, such as harassment or stalking, it is crucial that you get legal representation immediately. Our team of defense attorneys at Varghese Summersett have decades of experience and a proven record of exceptional results Call 817-203-2220 today for a free consultation with a doxing lawyer.