‘Doxxing’ (or ‘dropping documents’) involves the release of personal information without permission, and to a hostile online audience. This may include phone numbers, email and residential addresses, photographs, social media profiles and bank details.
Doxxing emerged in 1990s counterculture but has exploded in the last decade as a result of social media’s increasing influence, and the growing number of social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.).
A recent report by The Australia Institute found that more than one in three internet users in Australia have experienced some form of cyber-harassment. 8% of people have experienced “repeated, sustained threats or attacks” known as “cyber-hate”, and 5% have been the victims of doxxing.
Doxxing is unlawful, and may lead to victims being abused or threatened (even death threats). Doxxing is covered by section 474.17 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code. Section 474.17 makes it an offence to menace, harass or offend someone using a carriage service. This includes the internet and social media. The publication of personal information, except in special circumstances, is also a breach of the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW).
Sometimes legitimate complaints of doxxing and cyber-harassment have been dismissed by authorities. These errors, according to the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Law Reform Commission, are the result of inadequate police education and training. Police may be confused by jurisdictional issues (NSW police are required to enforce a federal law), or uncertain as to what behaviours constitute cyber-harassment.
Section 474.17 was written in 2005, before Facebook was launched in Australia.
As Greg Martin says:
The current legislation is outdated, confusing and rarely enforced. It is time for Australia to follow the lead of New Zealand and Germany and implement new laws that adequately cover abuse, harassment and doxxing on all digital technology platforms.
If you need legal advice in relation to online harassment or doxxing, Martin Bullock Lawyers can help. Contact Greg Martin or Jacqueline Wainwright on 02 9687 9322.