Ever been doxxed? You may soon be able to sue in California

SAN DIEGO (FOX 5/KUSI) — “Doxxing,” or the sharing of private information online with the intent to harass or harm a person, has become an increasingly prevalent issue on social media.

Millions of users have had everything from phone numbers and addresses to medical records leaked in such attacks as a form of online vigilantism, gaining traction in recent years from its roots in 90s computer hacking via websites like 4Chan and Reddit.

In California, doxxing is already considered a crime under harassment and cyberbullying laws, but a new bill could open up a new form of recourse for victims: lawsuits.

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Assembly Bill 1979, introduced by Asm. Chris Ward (D-San Diego) and Asm. Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Sacramento Valley), would allow those who have experienced doxxing the ability to pursue civil actions and receive restitution for any damages caused by the experience.

“Doxing is one of the most extreme forms of privacy invasion and causes significant distress and anxiety for the individuals affected,” Ward said in a statement on Tuesday. “Exposing sensitive information through doxing can also put victims at risk of, or responding to injury from, identity theft, harassment, stalking, physical harm, and even death.”

“The Doxing Victims Recourse Act [AB 1979] will finally allow them to pursue recourse and hold perpetrators accountable for the harm they cause,” he continued.

A recent report on doxxing from technology security company, Safe Home, found about four percent of Americans — roughly 11 million people — have been victims of such attacks online, the vast majority seeing their home addresses or emails made public.

According to a 2021 study by the Pew Research Center, this type of severe online harassment can be incredibly distressful, leading to pervasive mental health issues, financial losses, reputational damages and threats to their physical safety.

And some groups experience it more than others: A 2022 report from the Anti-Defamation League found that 65 percent of doxxing incidents were attacks on people based on race, religion, nationality, gender and sexual orientation. Studies have shown that women are also more likely to endure doxxing than men.

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However, doxxing can often be hard to prosecute, according to Ward — that is if criminal charges are pursued at all by prosecutors.

Under AB 1979, victims of doxxing will be able to pursue up to $30,000 in damages through a lawsuit against the person who released their information. It will also allow a court to issue orders, such as an injunction to prevent more doxxing by the defendant, when appropriate.

Proponents of the bill say it would be a crucial step to combat a rise in online harassment tied amid a nationwide rise in hate and extremism over the last few years.

AB 1979 passed the state Assembly Judiciary Committee earlier this week with bipartisan support and will head to the Appropriations Committee to be heard.

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