As a result of new social trends, and the increasing risk of people posting information online to embarrass or harass others, an amendment has been made to the Singapore Protection from Harassment Act (POHA). The aim was to give more protection to victims of harassment, and make remedies easier to obtain. A new offence was created from January 2020, known as ‘doxxing’, which can be committed both online or offline.
What is doxxing?
Doxxing means publishing a person’s personal information with the intent to threaten, harass or carry out violence against that person. This personal information may also be about someone related to the victim.
The victim of doxxing will always be a person – never an entity – although an entity can carry out the offence, in some situations. Entities who have information published maliciously against them use other remedies – separate to those available for individual doxxing victims – such as correction orders or stop publications.
In this article we look at the penalties for doxxing an individual, and what remedies are available to a person.
What is personal information?
Information which can be used to identify a person is personal information. The term ‘identity information’ is used by the POHA, meaning:
Any information that – either alone or with other information – identifies or purports to identify someone, including but not limited to:
- Any photo or video footage of someone; or
- Someone’s name, address, email address, date of birth, telephone number, passport number, signature (both written manually and electronically), national registration identity card number, or passwords;
- Any information regarding the victim’s education, family or employment.
Types of doxxing offences
There are 3 types of doxxing offence that an individual or an entity can commit:
- Publishing with the intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress – section 3(1)(c): this covers circumstances where the perpetrator publishes information about an individual, or a person related to that individual, intending to cause harassment, distress or alarm to the victim, and in fact, doing so did ultimately cause that harassment, alarm or distress.
For instance: A and B are in a relationship and they break up, and B publishes offensive remarks on social media, claiming that A is sexually promiscuous. B includes photos of A and her contact details. B’s intent here is for others to contact A and cause her distress. As a result, A is then harassed on the phone by strangers requesting sexual favours. Here, B is guilty of an offence. If B’s actions caused alarm and distress to A’s family members, he is also guilty of the offence.
- Publishing to cause fear of violence – section 5(1)(A): this involves publishing information that can identify a person or someone related to them:
- with the intention to make the victim believe unlawful violence will be used against them or someone else; or
- with the knowledge or reasonable cause to believe it would make the victim believe that violence will be used against them or another person.
For example, X posts on a social media platform that Y has access to, that ‘Y should be taught a lesson’, and ‘we know where Y lives’. He then posts pictures of Y and their address, adding ‘let’s go and teach him a lesson. Here, the intent is clearly that X wants Y to believe he will be the subject of violence. Note that if X knows that Y will never learn of the posts, then X can’t be found guilty of the offence, because X did not have the intent to cause Y to believe that he’d be attacked.
- Publishing to facilitate the use of violence – section 5(1)(A): This is where someone publishes identity information of an individual, or an individual who is related to the victim, with:
- The intention to facilitate the use of unlawful violence against the victim or someone else;
- Knowing or having cause to reasonably believe that it would be likely to facilitate the use of violence against the victim or anyone else.
To use the same example as above; if Y could not access any social media and didn’t know about the posts, then X could still be guilty of publishing information with the intention of facilitating violence.
Likewise, if X only stated that Y should be taught a lesson, and didn’t post any identifying information, but the Z posts Y’s address and asks others to help beat him up, then Z would be guilty of the crime of publishing information intending to facilitate unlawful violence.
If violence was used against Y’s family members then that would also be an offence.
Interestingly, offences under section 5(1)(A) don’t require the publisher to have actual intent; they can be guilty even if they simply ought to have known that they would cause fear or violence against the victim. But under section 3, the publisher must have actual intent.
When is it not doxxing?
Although the examples above are quite simple, cases of alleged doxxing will always depend on the specific context in which the information was published.
For instance, if you share identifying information with authorities so that lawful and appropriate action can be taken against someone, then that is not doxxing. Publishing a video of a public incident between two individuals to provide a factual description of it is not doxxing.
The offence depends on the intention, and what the consequences of publishing the information were.
Penalties for doxxing offences
Anyone found guilty of deliberately causing distress, alarm or harassment can be fined up to $5,000, or be jailed for a maximum of 6 months, or both.
Section 5(2) states that the penalty for causing fear or facilitating unlawful violence is a fine of up to $5,000 or a prison sentence of up to 12 months, or both of these.
Defences against doxxing
If the accused can prove that their conduct was reasonable, then they may be able to rely on the defences contained in sections 3(3) and 5(3) of the Act. The term ‘reasonable’ is not defined clearly, but the court will look at all the facts to determine the intent and whether it was reasonable to publish the information in the circumstances.
What to do if you fall victim to doxxing
If you believe you have been a victim of doxxing, speak to a lawyer about potential remedies available to you. If the offence happened online, take screenshots and save the evidence showing the information was published. You will need evidence to substantiate your claim regardless of which remedy you seek. You have the following options:
Protection order: If you successfully apply for this, the person will be prohibited from publishing the information. If already published, the person or social media platform will have to remove the information.
Civil claim: A civil action against the publisher can win you compensation for damages suffered as a result of the doxxing. A lawyer will be able to advise you as to whether a civil claim is suitable in your particular case.
Criminal charge: As a result of the POHA amendments section 3 and 5, you can file a police report to charge the accused person or entity with the doxxing offence. You won’t receive compensation, but the publisher will face the full force of the law.
The Singapore government is committed to protecting the public against rising online harassment, as shown by the criminalisation of doxxing. People or entities can now be punished for publishing personal information with the intent to harass or cause violence, whether they use threatening words or not.
Always consult an experienced lawyer as soon as possible if you’re the victim of online harassment, or you’re accused of it, so you can learn about your rights and remedies. You may have a defence to the charge of doxxing if you believe your conduct was reasonable.