Decision: State legislatures should move to protect law enforcement officers and their families by passing laws to provide for significant penalties for those who “dox” police officers.
Reason: U.S. military and law enforcement personnel have been victimized by “doxxing,” which is the deliberate release of personal private information posted online for the purposes of intimidating or directed targeting of an individual. The information has included home addresses, obviously potentially putting law enforcement and military personnel, and their families, at great risk.
Background: Peace officers in recent years have faced a growing threat from the practice known as “doxxing” in which their personal, private information is obtained, usually through legal means, and posted online. In most cases the information posted online included home addresses, obviously putting law enforcement and military personnel, and their families, at great risk.
The latest example occurred in Portland, Or., where the personal information of dozens of federal law enforcement agents was posted online, as part of a larger ongoing attack against law enforcement defending the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. Portland is hardly an isolated incident. The Department of Homeland Security reports that police in Kentucky, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Boston and New York City have also been doxxed. Several police officers in Chicago also became doxxing victims in June.
The primary suspect for these doxxing events is Antifa, which maintains a robust open-source intelligence capability to identify targets for future intimidation. It has been reported that at violent Antifa protests in Portland, communist insurgents have read law enforcement officers’ personal information aloud over megaphones, and in Seattle Antifa members attempted to target the home of the Seattle Chief of Police.
Some agencies have taken measures to protect law enforcement officers by concealing name tags and using alternative forms of identification, but this has led to threats of legal action from the Antifa-allied National Lawyers Guild, and caused agencies to face substantial negative media attention.
While Antifa groups have played a role in recent doxxing incidents on law enforcement recently, the technique has also been associated with the jihadist terror group the Islamic State (ISIS) in recent years. In 2016, the FBI reported that ISIS had published a “kill list” of law enforcement officers in Minnesota. ISIS also reportedly penetrated the New Jersey Transit Police system and doxxed 55 police officers, and targeted U.S. military personnel for doxxing as well.
ISIS jihadists have also targeted U.S. military personnel online. Back in 2015, ISIS hackers published the personal information of some 100 current and former members of the U.S. military after finding their information through social media. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security recommended that military personnel review their social media presence for possible security risks.
The most serious threat to military personnel came in 2015 when ISIS released a “kill list” of military personnel which included photographs and home addresses. The list contained military personnel in 55 cities in 23 states.
Such threats to US military personnel from designated foreign terrorist organizations are obviously a national security issue and involve transnational actors that can be dealt with in unique ways that domestic doxxers are largely immune from.
Pushback: Opponents of anti-doxxing legislation are likely to claim that such behavior is first amendment protected and that preventing doxxing would somehow harm legitimate inquiry by a free press and oversight of law enforcement. Others may claim that information used in doxxing is obtained by legal means and so releasing it should likewise be legal. Yet this is a dishonest claim, since there is already a significant body of legislation which prohibits the release of legally obtained personal information related to banking and health-care related issues.
It is highly unlikely that such legislation is currently feasible at the federal level, thanks to very strong anti-law enforcement political currents in the House Democrat majority led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Yet state legislatures can move to enact such laws as soon as they go into session. This is the proper function of the states to provide for the safety and security of everyone by passing laws to severely punish those who threaten and endanger our heroes on the thin blue line.
The Bottom Line: It may not be possible to prevent doxxing altogether, but what is needed—and what is surely feasible—are laws to punish those who dox police officers and/or participate in the doxxing of police officers. State lawmakers cannot sit idly by while police officers are victimized by domestic terrorists using doxxing to intimidate and threaten their families and homes.