Doxing

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Cosette SchillingJosh HarrisThe article Doxing is written by Josh Harris and Cosette Schilling of Doogue + George Defence Lawyers.

Josh is an Associate at Doogue + George based at our Melbourne office. He is experienced in indictable crimes such as sexual offences, drug trafficking, and culpable driving. He was previously an associate to a County Court Judge and was a Senior Associate to the Criminal Reserve List, where he was involved in the high level planning, administration, and finalising of all criminal matters listed in the County Court.

Cosette is based at our Broadmeadows and Melbourne offices and has a strong interest in social justice, human rights, and criminal law reform. She is experienced in a variety of legal matters having been a Judge’s associate in the Criminal Division of the County Court of Victoria. Apart from regular appearances at various Melbourne courts, Cosette has also attended various circuit locations across regional Victoria including Koori Court proceedings.


Doxing

What is Doxing?

Doxing, or doxxing, is often referred to as a form of ‘digital vigilantism’. An abbreviation for ‘dropping documents’, doxing is the act of exposing an individual’s identity, private information or personal details online without their consent.

Doxing can be in many forms including:

• Deanonymising doxing – the act of revealing the identity of someone previously anonymised, i.e. publishing a person’s pseudonym;

• Targeting doxing – the act of revealing specific information of an individual which allows them to be located, contacted, or allows their security to be breached, i.e. revealing contact details, photographs, passwords or locations; and

• Delegitimising doxing – revealing sensitive or intimate information about someone that can damage their credibility or reputation, i.e. revealing legal, medical, or financial records.

There can be a range of reasons why someone would dox another, however it is often motivated by someone trying to exert control over or intimidate another by compromising their safety, both on and offline. This could range from causing public embarrassment, humiliation and shaming to physical and cyberstalking.

Current Laws

Section 474.17 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 criminalises any person who uses a ‘carriage service’ (a phone or the internet), in a way that a reasonable person would regard as menacing, harassing or offensive.

In Victoria, the Crimes Act 1958 criminalises identity theft, distribution of intimate images and other threatening behaviour such as stalking and making threats to kill.

The prosecution must prove all elements of the charges beyond reasonable doubt.

What’s Happening Now?

In early 2023, the Attorney General’s Department recommended a number of changes to Australian privacy laws. These recommendations did not include the introduction of doxing laws. In September 2023, the Federal Government agreed to legislate a number of those recommendations. However, in February 2024, doxing made headlines when 600 members of a private messaging group in Australia had their personal information released to the public. This is an example of targeted doxing. Some of those who were doxed later received death threats, had their families harassed, were sent swastikas and were referred to as a ‘cancer’ online. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry then called on the Government for a greater response and condemned those who ‘doxed’.

In response, the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called on Attorney General Mark Dreyfus KC to bring legislation which would address acts of doxing as part of the Privacy Act review. In March 2024, the Attorney General commenced consultations with various individuals and organisations to assist with that review.

What Does This Mean for Australians?

Doxing is not a new phenomenon. The internet has made the act of doxing far easier and allows those who dox to be more difficult to identify and stop.

Critics of the new laws have raised concerns regarding the inter-jurisdictional nature of the internet – i.e. people can only be prosecuted in Australia if they commit those crimes in Australia, and so it does not stop someone ‘doxing’ someone from a different country. It also does not prevent someone from using technology such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which hides where they are accessing the internet from and make it more difficult to trace.

Others have expressed concern that the laws are already in place and should be used more effectively. They note that under the Federal Criminal Code, it is a crime (punishable by five to ten years imprisonment) to use a carriage service to threaten, harass or menace someone. Similar provisions are outlined in the Online Safety Act (2021).

It is important to note that these doxing laws are very much in the ‘consultation’ stage and we do not know what the actual laws will be. Ultimately, the laws will need to find the right balance when protecting those who are doxed while ensuring that an individual’s right to privacy is not infringed.
 
 
Date Published: 10 April 2024
 
 

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