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New research brief: Doxing, digital abuse and the law

Posted in: Online abuse February 27, 2024
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New research brief: Doxing, digital abuse and the law

Doxing typically involves the deliberate sharing of private personally identifiable  information on the internet, without consent, leaving targets at risk of emotional, professional and even physical harm. In an era where digital spaces have become extensions of our public and private lives, there is a pressing need for legal reforms to protect women and other vulnerable groups from technology-facilitated gender-based violence. 

Our new research brief, Doxing, Digital Abuse and the Law co-written with Equality Now, provides an current overview of regulation in laws. The research was conducted with pro-bono assistance from international law firm Hogan Lovells International LLP, which provided analysis on over 100 different laws across four continents.

Lacklustre legislation leaving targets vulnerable to harm

The research explores international human rights law and gives a snapshot of legal frameworks in different jurisdictions around the world, including the European Union, Australia, England and Wales, Kenya, New Zealand, Nigeria, Scotland, South Africa, and California, Texas, and Virginia in the United States.

Our research found no definition of “doxing” in international human rights law and no international human rights laws that directly regulate or tackle “doxing”. And across all the jurisdictions under discussion, there is no consistent approach which would enable a victim of doxing to seek help having their personal details removed from online platforms or
to seek redress from harm caused. In some countries, a patchwork of several laws might apply, leading to victims having to navigate a complicated legal labyrinth, and no speedy response available to victims in order for them to regain control of information which has been shared with the intent to intimidate, harass and cause harm.

Online danger and the digital divide

While doxing can target anyone when used as a cyberbullying or harassment tactic, those in the public eye are more commonly targeted by those who disagree with their opinions and beliefs. Like many other forms of online abuse, it disproportionately impacts women and girls, especially those with high profiles —journalists, politicians, and activists are particularly vulnerable. The result of this form of abuse can be self-censorship, removal of online presence and profiles, or a reduction in online visibility and activity, in an attempt to restrict potential abuse.

Doxing is a gendered form of harassment, and women, especially from minority groups, are more likely to be subjected to this harrassment , which further disproportionately impacts women of colour and LGTBQI+ communities. Digital violence, such as this, limits the participation of women in society and increases the digital gender divide.

Recommendations for targeted solutions

In releasing this brief, we aim to enable discussions among diverse stakeholders on the legal approaches required to address doxing effectively, and have developed recommendations which address multiplatform and multijurisdictional nature of this form of abuse.

Governments need to review existing laws and see if they apply to doxing and take into account the gendered nature of this form of online abuse. Most importantly, they must apply feminist and intersectional thinking and use existing international human rights frameworks to draw up laws that protect women and other vulnerable groups from technology-facilitated gender-based violence.

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