By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill that would create the crime of doxing, or intentionally posting personal information online with the intent to harass or harm a person, passed the Alabama House of Representatives unanimously Thursday.
Rep. Shane Stringer, R-Citronelle, is the sponsor of House Bill 403 and said he developed the bill after seeing judges and public officials harmed or harassed after their private information was released.
“The internet and social media has become the new weapon of our day and age and we’re starting to see people use social media to harm people that they disagree with or don’t like their opinions or views, taking your private information and making it public,” Stringer said.
According to the bill, someone commits doxing if a person “intentionally electronically publishes, posts, or provides personal identifying information of another person, with the intent that others will use that information to harass or harm that other person, and the other person is actually harassed or harmed.”
The bill specifically says this applies to law enforcement officers, firefighters or other public servants such as judges or legislators.
The House approved an amendment from Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, that would make it a class D felony if someone is convicted of doing the crime twice.
“This happened to a judge of mine back home and once he heard about this bill he asked that I put this in there,” Wood said.
Stringer said he had heard concerns from lobbyists who sometimes post lawmakers phone numbers or emails in order for people to contact them but said this bill wouldn’t affect that.
“For legislators you know people are going to contact you on different sides of the issues, and you just have to be patient and understanding that you know people are passionately about what they’re doing,” Stringer said.
Sean Strickler, President of the Alabama Council of Association Executives, told ADN he is concerned about the unintended consequences with the bill.
“Associations of all sizes rely on their memberships to get their point of view across to public officials,” Strickler said. “We would hate to see a cause of action created when our members are just exercising their civic duty by being involved in the legislative process.”
Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mount Hope, is a retired Decatur police officer.
He said the legislation is needed because technology now makes it easy for people to find and spread personal information about others, including law enforcement officers.
He said he’s read national stories about protesting groups targeting officers’ homes while they’re on duty.
“Law enforcement officers take on risks,” Robertson said. “But their families, their homes, should be off limits, in my opinion.”
Robertson said he doesn’t think the bill will stifle free speech.
“This isn’t about freedom of speech, this is about the intent to do harm,” Robertson said.
Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, supported the bill in committee and said on the floor that this bill helps protect families of public officials as well.
“We sign up to be elected officials, but our families do not,” Coleman said. “As a public official, our information is out there and it goes along with it, but when people use it for nefarious purposes that’s where the issue is.”
Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, is a co-sponsor of the bill and says he is not worried about innocent people being charged for this crime.
“The bill clearly provides protection to our public safety workers when there are those that wish harm to them because of the profession they have chosen,” Whitt said. “There has to be an intent to cause harm, so this does not affect other mass mailings.”
The bill now goes to the Senate.