As technology changes the way we interact with others around us, lawmakers are given the undesirable task of making sure that legislation can keep pace with the latest developments. A bill proposed in the Utah State House of Representatives earlier this week is one attempt to add legal consequences to the act of doxxing.
For the uninitiated, doxxing has come to refer to the practice of distributing personally identifiable information via the Internet, most often as a means of harassing or bullying the target. Perpetrators range from controversial activist group Anonymous to current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In a bill titled Cybercrime Amendments, Utah State Representative David Lifferth adds “distributing personal identifying information” to the forms of electronic communication that are punishable if executed with certain intent. These purposes are listed as “to annoy, alarm, intimidate, offend, abuse, threaten, harass, frighten, or disrupt the electronic communications of another.”
While action certainly needs to be taken, Lifferth’s H.B. 225 is being criticized as heavy-handed. Staff Attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation Nate Cardozo described this kind of legislature as “trendy” and the proposal itself as “extremely poorly worded and poorly thought-through” in an interview with Ars Technica.
Cardozo’s criticism stems from the fact that much could be interpreted as an act of doxxing, given the definition stated in Lifferth’s bill. Publishing any reference to someone’s name with the intent to annoy that individual would be considered an infraction of the proposed law.
Online harassment is not a problem that’s going to go away by itself, but it seems that this bill in particular has not been developed with the required intent. The end result of any such law would hopefully make it easier for all of us to engage with one another online, rather than having the potential to cut down on free speech like H.B. 225.