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Doxxing Series

Is Doxxing Free Speech?

Is doxxing free speech? The answer might depend on who you ask and in what context. 

Below, we explain doxxing and how it fits within the First Amendment and give you tips on how you can protect yourself against it. 

What Is Doxxing? 

Doxxing (also spelled “doxing”) is researching and publishing private or identifying information about a person, usually without their permission. 

Information published through doxxing can include home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, workplace information, family details. and other personal data. 

The goal of doxxing can vary. It might be used for harassment, intimidation, public shaming, or even for more benign purposes like investigative journalism. Doxxing is most often associated with malicious intent, where the objective is to invade someone’s privacy or cause them distress or harm.

Doxxing and the First Amendment 

When the Illinois anti-doxxing law came into effect in 2023, a legal journal wrote an article with the title:

News headline - Illinois anti doxxing bill becomes law - the latest attack on free speech

This wasn’t surprising. Whenever doxxing or anti-doxxing laws are passed, free speech advocates insist they go against the First Amendment:

First Amendment

Doxxing incidents also attract similar commentary comparing them to an exercise in free speech: 

Online discussion whether doxxing is free speech

To some people, doxxing might equal free speech as defined by the Constitution, but this is only partially true. 

Doxxing is a complex issue when considered in the context of the First Amendment.

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and expression, including the publication of information. However, there are limits to these freedoms, especially when they infringe upon the rights and safety of others. 

Doxxing tends to fall into a legally gray area depending on the specifics of the situation:

  • Public versus private information: The First Amendment generally protects the publication of information that is already a matter of public record. However, sharing private information about an individual without their consent, especially with intent to harm or harass, is less likely to be protected.
  • Intent and harm: If doxxing is done with the intent to threaten, harass, or incite violence against someone, it may not be protected under the First Amendment. This kind of action can potentially be seen as a form of intimidation or a threat, which are not protected forms of speech.
  • Legal consequences: While the act of doxxing itself may not always be illegal, it can lead to activities that are, such as stalking, harassment, or identity theft. Moreover, if doxxing leads to harm, the individual who shared the information could be held liable in a civil lawsuit for damages.
  • Context-specific: The legality of doxxing often depends on the context. For example, a journalist publishing information about a public figure might be protected under the First Amendment, while an individual releasing private information about a private citizen with the intent to cause harm would not be.

Although the First Amendment provides broad protections for speech and expression, these rights are not absolute, and doxxing, especially when it leads to harm or is intended to harass or intimidate, can fall outside the scope of these protections. 

The legal interpretation can vary greatly depending on the specifics of each case, including the nature of the information shared, the intent behind sharing it, and the outcomes that result from it.

So, Is Doxxing Free Speech?

Depends on the situation. 

Doxxing is not considered a form of protected free speech in most legal contexts. It often infringes on individuals’ privacy and safety and can lead to real-world harm, such as harassment or threats.

However, it’s important to distinguish between publishing private information in the public interest (such as investigative journalism that might reveal information about a public figure in the context of a relevant public debate) and doxxing. 

What is called “doxxing” typically has no public interest justification and is aimed at harming an individual.

Several US states have passed laws that specifically address and penalize doxxing. 

Is Doxxing Illegal? 

Doxxing is not illegal at the federal level in the US. 

However, doxxing is sometimes illegal at the state level. A growing number of states, including California, Illinois, and Arizona, have passed doxxing laws. 

How to Protect Yourself Against Doxxing

Whether doxxing is considered free speech or not, no one should have to experience having their personal information published publicly without their consent. 

To reduce the risk you’ll be doxxed, you need to do two things:

  1. Find out how much of your personal information is findable online.
  2. Delete or hide as much of this information as possible.

Start by doxxing yourself. You can read our guide on how to do this and use our list of doxxing tools. Essentially, this means searching for yourself online. 

Once you know where your information appears, you can move on to the second step and remove it. 

You might want to close down personal blogs, make your social media accounts private, and reach out to third-party websites asking them to remove your name and other details they might have published about you. 

Then, remove your name from data brokers and people search sites. 

Data brokers are companies that collect personal information about you from various sources, compile this information into detailed profiles, and sell it to more or less anyone who wants it. 

Luckily, you can opt out of data brokers. 

However, data brokers relist your profile when they find more data about you, so you must continuously stay on top of data broker removal. 

Alternatively, you can subscribe to a data broker removal service like DeleteMe

Once you complete these steps, be mindful of where and with whom you share your personal information going forward. Use unique usernames to avoid username tracking, download fewer apps (they often sell your information to data brokers), and avoid sharing personal information online in general. Even if you delete it, you never know who might have taken a screenshot of it. 

Read our guide on how to prevent doxxing to learn more.

Laura Martisiute is DeleteMe’s content marketing specialist. Her job is to help DeleteMe communicate vital privacy information to the people that need it. Since joining DeleteMe in 2020, Laura h…

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