Colorado on Tuesday made it illegal to share the personal information of public health workers and their families online so that it can be used for purposes of harassment, responding to an increase in threats to such workers during the pandemic.
Known as doxxing, the practice of sharing a person’s sensitive information, such as a physical or email address or phone number, has long been used against law enforcement personnel, reporters, protesters and women speaking out about sexual abuse. But health care workers have increasingly become a target as their jobs on the front lines of the response to the coronavirus pandemic have placed them at the center of the heated national debate over protective measures and virus misinformation.
Health workers in Colorado and other states have had their property vandalized and have received death threats and harassing phone calls after their personal information was posted online.
“I want to thank all of our health departments and public health workers across the state,” Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado said in signing the bill. “What they’ve been through this last year has been absolutely extraordinary.”
the bill’s sponsors, said: “This is an incredibly important work force all of the time, but especially in the middle of the pandemic. They need to be focusing on what their work is and not dealing with threats.”
Violators of Colorado’s new law face up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. The state had already made it a crime to dox law enforcement officers or workers who provide child welfare and adult protective services.
Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert and a fellow at the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, welcomed the legislation but questioned why its protections were extended only to public health workers.
stalking and conspiracy can apply to the practice. Colorado is one of several states to take steps to make doxxing a crime.
Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma signed a bill last month prohibiting the doxxing of law enforcement officers. A similar measure signed into law last year in New Jersey also protects judges and prosecutors.
Lawmakers in Nevada, Oregon and West Virginia have also discussed anti-doxxing bills, some of which would make it illegal to dox anyone, not just public workers.
Mr. Schneier praised the push to make doxxing illegal as a way to have the practice be taken seriously by the police and social media platforms, but he said he was concerned about the authorities’ ability to identify perpetrators and about what could happen if such laws apply only to certain individuals.
“You need to be able to hold power accountable,” Mr. Schneier said. “Just like privacy laws are being used to stop people recording the police, anti-doxxing laws could be abused.”