New social trends such as posting people’s personal information online to cause them embarrassment and harassment have led to amendments of the Singapore Protection from Harassment Act (POHA). The amendments enhance the protection for victims of harassment and make it easier for victims to obtain remedies. The amendments created a new offence, called “doxxing”, which came into effect on 1 January 2020. Doxxing can be committed online or offline.
What is doxxing?
In simple terms, doxxing refers to the publication of a person’s personal information with the intention to harass, threaten or facilitate violence against such a person. The information can also be about people related to the victim.
The offence can only be committed against a person, not an entity, although an entity can commit the offence. If an entity falls victim to conduct similar to doxxing, the entity has other available remedies, such as a stop publication or correction order.
This article will focus on the offence of doxxing against individuals and the penalties and remedies available to individuals.
What is defined as personal information?
Personal information in this context refers to information that can be used to identify a person. The POHA uses the term “identity information”, which means:
Any information that, whether on its own or with other information, identifies or purports to identify an individual, including but not limited to:
- the individual’s name, residential address, email address, telephone number, date of birth, national registration identity card number, passport number, signature (whether handwritten or electronic), or password;
- any photograph or video recording of the individual; or
- any information about the individual’s family, employment or education.
Types of doxxing offences
The amendments created three types of doxxing offences that an individual or an entity can commit.
1. Section 3(1)(c) – Publishing with the intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress
Publishing identity information about a person, or a person related to that person, with the intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress to the victim and, in fact, causing such harassment, alarm or distress.
An example of this offence would include a situation where A and B were in a relationship. After breaking up, B publishes insulting remarks on social media, alleging that A is sexually promiscuous. B includes a photo of A and A’s personal contact number. B’s intention is for others to contact A and to cause her distress. As a result of the published information, A is harassed by phone calls and messages from strangers asking for sexual favours. B would be guilty of the offence. B would also be guilty of the offence if it caused distress, alarm or harassment to A’s family.
2. Section 5(1A) – Publishing to cause fear of violence
Publishing identity information of a person, or a person related to the victim:
- intending to cause the victim to believe that unlawful violence will be used against the victim or another person; or
- knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that it is likely to cause the victim to believe that unlawful violence will be used against the victim or another person.
If, for example, X posts on a social media forum that Y has access to that, “Y needs to be taught a lesson” and “We know where you live”. In the next post, he includes a photo of Y and Y’s address. He also adds, “Let’s go and beat him up.” Clearly, X has the intention to cause Y to believe that violence will be used against him. If X knows, however, that Y will never become aware of the posts, X cannot be guilty of this offence since X would not have the intention to cause Y to believe that violence will be used against Y.
3. Section 5(1A) – Publishing to facilitate the use of violence
Publishing identity information of a person, or a person related to the victim:
- intending to facilitate the use of unlawful violence against the victim or another person; or
- knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that it is likely to facilitate the use of such violence against the victim or any other person.
Using the same example as above, if Y had no access to social media and was not aware of the posts, X can still be guilty of publishing information with the intention of facilitating unlawful violence.
Similarly, if X didn’t post the identifying information, but only that Y should be taught a lesson, and Z then posts Y’s address and “Yes, let’s go and beat him up”, Z can be guilty of an offence of publishing identity information intending to facilitate unlawful violence.
It will also be an offence if the violence is facilitated against Y’s family members.
It is interesting to note that the offences under section 5(1A) do not require the publisher to have actual intent; the publisher can be guilty even if the publisher ought to have known that it would cause fear or facilitate violence against the victim. Under section 3, the publisher must have actual intent.
Penalties for doxxing offences
The penalty for intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress is a fine not exceeding $5,000 or imprisonment for a maximum of 6 months or both.
Under Section 5(2), the penalty for causing fear or facilitating unlawful violence is a fine not exceeding $5,000 or imprisonment for a maximum of 12 months or both.
When is it not doxxing?
The examples used above are all relatively straight forward. It is, however, important to note that whether publishing personal information amounts to doxxing will always depend on the context in which the information is published.
If, for example, you share identifying information with the authorities so that appropriate action can be taken against an individual, it won’t be doxxing. If you post a video of a public incident between two people to provide a factual account of the incident, it similarly won’t be doxxing.
It all depends on the intention or the consequences of publishing the information.
Is there a defence against doxxing?
Yes, section 3(3) and section 5(3) of the Act provide a defence against a doxxing charge if the accused individual or entity can prove that the conduct was reasonable. There is no clear definition of what would be reasonable. The court will consider each case’s facts to determine the intent and whether the publication was reasonable in the circumstances.
What can you do if you feel that you are the victim of doxxing?
If you feel that you are the victim of a doxxing offence, you should speak with a lawyer about the remedies available. If the offence was committed online, you should take screenshots or save evidence of the published information. Whatever cause of action you decide on, you will need evidence to substantiate your claim. Your options include the following:
Since the implementation of the amendments to the POHA, you can file a police report under section 3 or 5 to charge the accused person or entity with the offence of doxxing. Although you won’t receive any compensation, the publisher will face the full force of the law.
You may be able to apply for a Protection Order to prohibit the person from publishing the information or order the person or the social media platform to remove the information.
Another possibility is to bring a civil action against the publisher and claim compensation for damages suffered due to the doxxing. An experienced lawyer can advise whether a civil claim is a suitable option in your circumstances.
Criminalising doxxing emphasises the Singapore government’s commitment to protecting the public against the increasing trend of online harassment. People and entities can now be prosecuted for publishing personal information with the intention of causing harassment or violence, even if threatening words weren’t used.
If you are the victim of online harassment, or if you are accused of doxxing, you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible to find out what your rights or remedies are. If you are accused of doxxing but feel that your conduct was reasonable, you might have a defence. An experienced lawyer will explain your rights to you.