Every once in a while, a slang term makes its way into wider usage. Doxing is one of those rare words.
Many people don’t even know what doxing is. Others who know what it is may ask, Is doxing a crime?
At this time, there’s no Ohio doxing laws on the books; but that could change soon.
While doxing someone does not violate a specific law, there are other laws that could make doxing illegal.
As a result, you could face serious consequences if someone accused you of doxing them.
What Is Doxing Someone?
Computer hackers from the 1990s originally used the word, which is short for “dropping documents.”
Dropping documents—now known as doxing—exposes the identity of a person who wishes to remain anonymous.
The word came into existence when hackers, whose anonymity was sacred, started identifying other hackers or doxing them to destroy their anonymity and potentially get them in serious trouble.
What Does it Mean to Dox Someone Today?
While hackers still need to preserve their anonymity, the broader population adopted the idea of exposing another person’s identity to exact revenge, largely thanks to social media.
People dox others to expose the identity of someone they don’t like or someone with whom they disagree.
Doxing is more than simply ruining a person’s anonymity. People can dox others with the intent to injure.
They know that publishing private information such as a person’s real name, place of employment, home address, or social security number could lead to the threat of violence or actual violence against the person whose identity has been exposed.
Doxing usually occurs online, where many people can see the information. That is why doxing is so effective and so harmful.
Once the information is out there on the internet, there’s no way to recall it.
Several stories in recent years surfaced where one person doxed another, which led to the first person getting fired from their job or suffering a ruined reputation.
This act could also lead to criminal harassment of the victim and the victim’s family.
When Is Doxing Illegal?
The harm from doxing could rise to the level of menacing by stalking. Prosecutors can use this statute to prosecute doxing if the appropriate circumstances are present.
Under this law, menacing by stalking is a crime:
- When a person engages in a pattern of conduct (two or more related incidents closely related in time);
- While knowingly causing the victim to believe that the actor will cause serious physical or mental distress to themselves or their family.
Additionally, menacing by stalking is a crime if someone uses electronic means such as the internet to stalk the victim or to incite others to stalk the victim.
Lastly, it’s important to note that any actions or words directed towards an organization the victim belongs to, such as an employer, counts as well.
The Penalties for Menacing By Stalking
Menacing by stalking is a misdemeanor in the first degree.
In Ohio, a person convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor faces up to a $500 fine and six months in jail. However, stalking by menacing can rise to a felony in particular circumstances.
Stalking by menacing is a fourth-degree felony if any of the following aggravating factors apply:
- The accused has a prior conviction for menacing by stalking or for an aggravated trespass;
- The offender threatened physical harm or incited a third person to threaten physical harm;
- The accused trespassed on the property where the victim lives, attends school, or works, or incited another to trespass where the victim lives, attends school, or works;
- The alleged victim is a minor;
- The offender has a violent history toward others or has displayed homicidal behavior;
- The perpetrator was armed with a dangerous weapon or destroyed the victim’s property; or
- The offender is the subject of a protective order to ensure the safety of the victim or someone else.
A conviction for a fourth-degree felony in Ohio carries an 18-month prison sentence and a fine of no more than $5,000.
Is Doxing Illegal Under Federal Law?
Like Ohio, there are no specific federal laws that make doxing illegal. However, federal prosecutors can also use other crimes to punish doxing.
For example, federal law prohibits the disclosure of restricted personal information pertaining to certain “covered” individuals and their families.
Under this law, restricted personal information means:
- Social security numbers;
- Home addresses;
- Personal email addresses;
- Personal mobile phone numbers; and
- Home phone numbers.
Dissemination of publicly accessible information for a covered person probably falls outside of the statute.
A covered person can be:
- A petit or grand juror;
- A witness or informant in a criminal investigation;
- A federal employee; or
- A state employee who is assisting in a federal criminal investigation.
Anyone convicted of this crime faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison along with supervised release and a large fine.
Other federal laws that carry stiff criminal penalties may apply as well.
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