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Doxxing Series

Is Doxxing Illegal In Massachusetts?

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  • Is Doxxing Illegal In Massachusetts?

If you live in Massachusetts and have concerns about your personal information being posted online without your permission, you may be wondering: Is doxxing illegal in Massachusetts? 

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the state’s legal code, including behaviors related to doxxing that fall in the realm of criminal activity. 

Is Doxxing Illegal in Massachusetts?

No. The act of doxxing, or knowingly publishing personal information about someone else online without their consent, is not illegal in and of itself in Massachusetts. 

This is partly due to how much information about individuals is available in the public sphere, whether published by the owners of the information or not. 

Even though doxxing itself is not illegal in Massachusetts, doxxing can sometimes lead to other behaviors such as harassment, making annoying phone calls or sending bothersome messages, making false reports to the police (such as swatting), and extortion – all of which are illegal in Massachusetts. 

Harassment

In Massachusetts, harassment (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 43A) refers to a pattern of behavior over a period of time that “seriously alarms” the victim. 

In other words, harassment is not a single instance or incident but rather a repeated action that “would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress.” 

The harassment can come from a variety of sources, including phone, mail, or email. 

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 43A - harassment

Those who engage in harassment in Massachusetts can find themselves subject to up to two and a half years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $1,000. Repeat offenders could find themselves in a state prison for up to 10 years.  

Stalking

To be charged with stalking in Massachusetts (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 43), two requirements must be met. 

The first is that the perpetrator “willfully and maliciously” commits a series of acts against the victim over a period of time that seriously alarms or annoys the victim to the point of “substantial emotional distress.”

The second is that the perpetrator makes a threat with the intent of putting the victim “in imminent fear of death or bodily injury.”

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 43 - stalking

Those charged with stalking in Massachusetts could be imprisoned for up to five years and fined up to $1,000. 

If charged with stalking while in violation of a restraining order, a minimum imprisonment time of one year is mandated, with no option for parole, probation, or sentence reduction. Repeat offenders face imprisonment for between two and 10 years.

Annoying telephone calls or electronic communication

Massachusetts has a specific law pertaining to perpetrators who continuously make annoying telephone calls or send emails to their victims (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 269, Section 14A). 

Those who do so “for the sole purpose of harassing, annoying or molesting the person or the person’s family” while using “indecent or obscene language to the person” can face up to three months in prison and a fine of up to $500. 

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 269, Section 14A - annoying telephone calls or electronic communication

False reports to police officers 

One of the most dangerous practices to emerge in recent years is “swatting,” which refers to making hoax phone calls to law enforcement with the intention of sending armed police officers to the homes of unsuspecting victims. 

Swatting has led to multiple fatalities as victims are unable to handle the shock and don’t always respond well to law enforcement (who arrive expecting a threatening situation). 

This behavior is illegal in Massachusetts. Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 269, Section 13A, it’s illegal to make false reports of a crime to police officers. 

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 269, Section 13A - false reports to police officers

Doing so could lead to up to a year imprisonment and a fine of $100-$500.

Extortion

Attempted extortion in Massachusetts (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 25) is a serious crime warranting up to 15 years of imprisonment in a state prison and up to a $5,000 fine. 

To qualify as an act of extortion, the perpetrator must have malicious intent and either threaten to accuse another person of a crime or threaten an injury to another person unless they are given “money or any pecuniary advantage” or their victim carries out “any act” against their will.

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 25 - extortion

Is Doxxing Illegal at the Federal Level?

There are no federal laws against doxxing currently. 

This is because doxxing – or posting information about other people without their permission – typically involves public information about that person. The information could come from the victims themselves (on social media, for example) or from public records (such as a courthouse). 

However, doxxing is a crime in some states, like California, Illinois, and Arizona. A growing number of states are discussing anti-doxxing laws. 

How to Protect Yourself Against Doxxing In Massachusetts (And Elsewhere)

Even though doxxing is an incredibly common practice, and there is no federal law protecting against it, that doesn’t mean you’re without options. Limiting your online footprint can effectively close the channels that bad actors could use to dox you (or worse).

You can start by doxxing yourself (follow our helpful guide) using this list of easy-to-use doxxing tools. Doing so will give you a better idea of where your information is accessible online and help you take the next steps to plug any information holes.

More than likely, after you’ve identified where your vulnerabilities are, you’ll find yourself needing to:

  • Change your social media account settings to private. 
  • Opt out of data brokers. These are companies that make money by collecting information about you and then selling this information to anyone willing to pay the asking price. Consider subscribing to a data broker removal service like DeleteMe to have privacy experts continuously remove your information from these sites (data brokers are known to relist your details even after you opt-out) on your behalf. 
  • Create and use unique usernames for every platform, forum, app, and online account. 
  • Use unique passwords, two-factor authentication, and/or a password manager to prevent hackers from guessing common passwords or trying to log into your accounts with passwords found in data breaches.
  • Stop giving out unnecessary personal information on the internet, particularly in public places. 
  • Remember that anything you post online in public could stay there indefinitely. 

For more information, check out our guide on how to prevent doxxing

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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