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      is doxxing illegal in australia

      Is Doxxing Illegal in Australia?

      The Australian government has announced that it will be moving forward with legislation to make doxxing a criminal offence.

      The move follows the leak of personal information of more than 600 participants in a WhatsApp group chat.

      It has been hailed as an attempt to combat cyberbullying and harassment, however, critics have raised concerns about the practical enforcement of the laws.

      What is Doxxing?

      Doxxing is the deliberate online exposure of an individual’s identity, private information, or personal details without their consent.

      The term is short for “dropping documents”. The practice has been criticised as sharing this information publicly violates the victim’s privacy, security, safety, and reputation. Often, those behind doxing encourage others to use the information to harass the victim.

      Doxxing can result in:

      • public embarrassment, humiliation or shaming
      • discrimination, if personal characteristics are disclosed
      • cyberstalking and physical stalking 
      • identity theft and financial fraud
      • damage to their personal and professional reputation, leading to social and financial disadvantage
      • increased anxiety
      • reduced confidence and self-esteem.

      Is Doxxing Illegal in Australia?

      The Australian has announced it will make doxxing illegal by enacting legislation to make it a criminal offence to publish personal information online. This is part of an attempt to combat cyberbullying and harassment.

      Currently, section 474 of the Criminal Code (Cth), makes it an offence to use a carriage service to menace, harass or offend someone. This includes the internet or social media.

      Section 13 of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 (NSW) also makes it an offence to stalk or intimidate another person.

      The Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW) also restricts the publication of personal information, except in certain circumstances.

      How Common is Doxxing?

      A study conducted in 2019 by The Australia Institute revealed that only 5% of individuals reported being doxxed where personal details are published with the intent to intimidate. A further 4% claimed to have faced online impersonation and other actions aimed at damaging their reputation or career.

      Over one in three internet users have encountered some form of online harassment or abuse, although only 8% of respondents reported experiencing ‘cyberhate,’ characterised by repeated and sustained threats or attacks, amounting to approximately 1.3 million Australians.

      Online harassment and cyberhate have incurred significant costs for Australians, estimated at $3.7 billion in health expenses and lost income.

      Support for reform

      Supporters urged for the introduction of legislation to prohibit doxxing following the release of chat logs from a pro-Israeli WhatsApp group in Australia.

      Pro-Palestinian activists leaked the details of the chat and revealed the details of those in the group.

      Critics of the doxxing argue that it has exposed Jewish Australians to anti-Semitic harassment and threats of violence.

      They also suggest that the current laws, including section 474(17) of the Criminal Code (Cth), were written in 2005, before modern social media and communication mediums such as Facebook were launched. It is argued that the existing legislation is outdated, convoluted, and seldom applied.

      New Doxxing Laws

      Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has signalled new anti-doxxing laws will be aimed at criminalising the disclosure of a broad range of personal information for malicious intent. The laws follow an extensive review of the Privacy Act overseen by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus,

      The penalty for doxxing is expected to include jail time.

      However, the new doxing laws will include exemptions for public interest journalism, such as reporting on public figures.

      Problems with doxxing laws

      Specialist Sydney criminal lawyers have pointed out a number of problems with the proposed new doxing laws.

      Existing legislation already deals with cyberbullying such as stalking, intimidation and harassment. New legislation going further than this could have the unintended consequence of ‘opening the floodgates’ and clogging up courts with matters that do not meet the criminal standard. For example, there will need to be consideration given to the definition of ‘personal information’. Adopting too wide a definition could criminalise conduct that is not cyberbullying or stalking.

      Further, any new criminal offence for doxxing would likely be an offence of specific intent. This means that the prosecution would have to prove that the accused not only doxxed another person but also had some intention to cause a degree of harm.

      There will also need to be strong consideration given to what exceptions apply. For example, publicly responding to a victim of a crime on the internet or social media to provide the details of a perpetrator would become an offence. The same could be said for the posting of information in connection with a proposed civil action (eg. the details of a person to sue).

      The proposed exemption for public interest journalism will also need to be examined carefully. Journalism is not a profession where there is a professional body which maintains a register of those persons who are in the profession (such as the law or accountancy). This means that a person who runs a small blog website may be able to fall within this exception, even if they are in fact using their platform to dox another person.

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