7 questions to understand what doxing is

French law was updated at the end of August 2021 to specifically sanction a crime that occurs in the digital world: doxing.

What is doxing?

Like swatting, a term that designates a practice of making a telephone hoax in order to involve the police for nothing (and which is punishable by law), doxing (sometimes spelled doxxing) is a word from English which designates the act of disclosing personal data with the intention of harming a person. Its origins date back to the mid-90s, reports The Atlantic.

The word doxing is said to be derived from the term documents, which can be abbreviated as docs. This refers to the fact that one documents information about a person or that one shares documents which lead to knowing his identity and other indications. However, it was from the 2010s that the term began to take off, even though it had been used since the 2000s.

The origins of the term are said to date back to the 90s, in Usenet discussions. The term became relatively common over the next two decades. // Source: Clint Patterson via Unsplash

Where is that from ?

The provision contained in the article of law is the concrete legal translation of a measure which was taken in reaction to the Samuel Paty case, in October 2020. He is a professor of history and geography and civic education which officiated in a college in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. He was killed after showing his students cartoons of Muhammad in a free speech class.

It emerged in the course of the case that following the sharing, on the Facebook page of a mosque (subsequently subject to a temporary closure order), of a video of a parent of a student calling to the mobilization against the teacher, that an Internet user had published in commentary information revealing the identity of the teacher and the establishment in which he taught.

What the law says ?

The “doxing” means ” the fact of revealing, disseminating or transmitting, by any means whatsoever, information relating to the private, family or professional life of a person allowing him to be identified or located for the purposes of exhibiting him or her ” expose family members to a direct risk of harm to person or property that the perpetrator could not ignore “.

This behavior is now repressed in the Penal Code, via the law confirming respect for the principles of the Republic (formerly called the law against separatism). The text was published in the Official Journal on August 24 and its content entered into force the following day. Regarding doxing, the offense is found in article 36 of the text. It gave rise to article 223-1-1 of the Penal Code.

France freedom expression demonstration
The murder of Samuel Paty marked the country. Demonstrations took place and a law was passed in Parliament. // Source: Mathieu Delmestre

What are we risking?

The law provides for penalties of up to 3 years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros for the offender. These are ceilings, which will not necessarily be reached during a trial – justice deals with cases on a case-by-case basis. The penalties can be significantly increased in the event of aggravating circumstances. In this case, the law provides for 5 years in prison and a 75,000 euro fine.

What are these aggravating circumstances?

They are triggered because of the quality or characteristics of the victims.

It can be the profession. A “doxing” on a journalist is an example, but we can also mention civil servants, people in charge of a public service mission (firefighter, bus driver, SNCF controller, etc.), elected officials ( mayor, senator, deputy, etc.) and individuals holding public authority (judge, policeman, gendarme, etc.).

The victim’s condition is also taken into account: making such a disclosure against a minor, a pregnant woman or an individual because of his age, illness, disability, physical or psychological impairment justifies heavier penalties, because these cases involve people with particular vulnerability, when this is apparent or known by the perpetrator of the offense.

Aggravating circumstances exist if certain specific audiences are targeted. // Source: Guitguit

What can we do ?

If you come across online content that discloses your personal data and that appears to pose a threat to your safety or property, you have the option of filing a complaint at a police station or gendarmerie squad. If you need help beforehand, or require additional information, state services can be contacted by chat.

It is also possible to turn to the platform that hosts said content, to request its removal. Social networks, for example, have specific procedures for reporting questionable, even clearly illegal, publications to the moderation teams. The effective withdrawal of a content in question could however hamper the rest of the procedure, it having disappeared.

And before in the law?

The law was not necessarily helpless in the face of the disclosure of personal data, before the text on Republican principles. Since 1994, article 226-22 of the Penal Code has existed, updated twice, which penalizes the dissemination, without consent, of personal information which could harm the person concerned. It is provided for up to 5 years in prison and a fine of 300,000 euros.

However, the text was not adapted to certain behaviors. In particular, the text states that “ the prosecution can only be exercised on the complaint of the victim, his legal representative or his dependents “. Clearly, the person must know that they are the victim of a doxing to make arrangements. In the case of Samuel Paty, there is no indication that he was aware of this disclosure.

Other articles of law could also be mobilized, recalls LCI, in particular on the offenses of ” endangering others “,” pack harassment ” or ” provocation of a crime “.

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