Here’s an article worth reading that examines the First Amendment implications of “doxing” legislation. The article takes for a definition of “doxing” the “involuntarily dissemination of home contact information about police officers and others with sensitive jobs who might be targets of vengeful people.” In the authors’ view, in the states’ that have recently adopted anti-doxing laws, legislators haven’t fully examined the First Amendment implications of the laws they are enacting.
The thing about “doxing” is that it’s subject to being used to cover behavior that’s not illegal, or at least shouldn’t be illegal. If an interest group wants to reach a public official’s attention, it shouldn’t be a crime to publish that person’s address so people can register their feelings, especially if that address is publicly available. But under legislation in some states that may be what’s happening. The fact is, there are most likely laws on the books prohibiting harassment, threats and incitement that address truly problematic behavior. Anti-doxing laws don’t add much except for a chilling effect that may stop perfectly legal conduct.
What might help all of us is some more precision with language. But too often we fall back on simple one word descriptions like “woke” and “MAGA” that get stretched like silly putty to cover conduct we don’t like. Ultimately, a term like “doxing” becomes too imprecise to effectively criminalize. Too bad so many lawmakers don’t get it.