After the Samuel Paty affair, “doxing” Internet users is now liable to prison in France

The law has changed: since August 25, revealing a person’s identity and personal information on the Internet, knowing that it will harm them, is punishable under criminal law.

It is the legal consequence of the assassination of Samuel Paty, this professor of history, geography and civic education in a college in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine killed because he had shown caricatures of Mohammed in a course on freedom. expression. From now on, the practice of ” doxing “(Sometimes spelled” doxxing “) is defined in law, and repressed.

The investigative work showed that the identity of the teacher had been disseminated on the net, in connection with this course and the attack that followed.

The Montreuil administrative court, France Bleu reported in October 2020, had issued an order for the temporary closure of a mosque, because it had shared on its Facebook page a video of a student’s parent calling for mobilization against the ‘teacher. In comment, a user had also revealed the identity and the college where the officiating teacher, without this message being moderated.

Virtual publications with real effects

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 members of his family to a direct risk of harm to person or property that the perpetrator could not ignore.

This practice is now criminalized by the Penal Code (even if there were already specific provisions approaching it), because the law consolidating respect for the principles of the Republic (formerly called the law against separatism and which contains a few other articles around digital) has just been published in the Official Journal on August 24. It has therefore been in force since August 25. Article 36 of this text provides for a new offense, which is materialized through article 223-1.1 of the Penal Code.

Doxing can lead to forms of violence, causing individuals to attack people or property. // Source: Volkan Olmez

Basically, the new sanction provides for the offender up to three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. These are the maximum penalties. However, these may be increased due to aggravating circumstances: the penalties then increase to 5 years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros. These are triggered when victims have been targeted due to certain characteristics.

This includes the profession, for example if we attack a journalist, a civil servant, an individual in charge of a public service mission (firefighter, bus driver, SNCF controller, etc.), to the holder of a public elective mandate (such as a mayor or a deputy) or a person holding public authority (judge, police officer, gendarme, etc.).

The condition of the person is also a characteristic that is taken into account. Thus, a “doxing” on a minor, a pregnant woman or on a person because of his age, his illness, his infirmity, his physical or psychic deficiency also constitutes an aggravating circumstance, because of the particular vulnerability of the victim, when it is apparent or known to the perpetrator.

Beware of old publications

Reacting to the publication of this law, the gendarmerie officer Matthieu Audibert, who is doctoral student in private law and criminal sciences, provided some legal insights in a Twitter thread on August 25, in constant that the text provides for the constitutive element of the offense, materialized by the “doxing” strictly speaking, as well as a moral element and the taking into account of the intentionality of the author.

From these elements, Matthieu Audibert underlines that this incrimination remains framed: “ when the author doesx a surfer or a Twitter user, it must be proved that the author is necessarily aware that this exposes the victim to a direct risk of harm to the person or to property “. Publishing a person’s identity alone is not sufficient reason to convict someone.

With this provision, even old tweets could also be incriminated. // Source: EFF

The gendarmerie officer ends with an open question: does this type of offense fall into the category of instantaneous offenses (such as shoplifting) or those of continuous offenses (such as concealment). Seemingly very legal, the question has an impact on prescription, that is to say on the moment from which justice can no longer be seized.

If we consider that the offense is continuous, this means that all the acts of doxing committed before the entry into force of the law, but still online can be prosecuted. The facts no longer being committed, for example at the time of the deletion of the tweet He observes. Clearly, as long as a tweet is online, for example, it can fall under the law, even if it has been written before.

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