I want to touch on online privacy and doxxing protection for public sector employees. For those who don’t know, “doxxing” is when personal information like your address, phone number, email, are published online for nefarious reasons. It has happened to celebrities, politicians, teachers, police officers, and nurses. It’s a brutal tactic that can cause considerable trauma to a person and their family.
Public information accessibility laws put public service employees at increased risk of being doxxed, because their names (and sometimes salaries or other information) are required to be available to the public either through a search or a formal request. The new police accountability bill in Connecticut legally requires Police Officers to display their names at all times on their outer most garment.
The motives for doxxing someone vary widely. Sometimes the doxxer wants to harass an employee they don’t like. Anti-law enforcement activists routinely doxx officers and their families following notable incidents. Sometimes it just an internet person, who takes issue with a post or comment on social media. In all cases, the doxxers weaponize your name or other publicly available information about you in order to terrorize you in your own home.
How do they do this? By scouring the internet for “bread crumbs” of published information. The most prevalent sources of this are from large data broker websites like whitepages.com, fastpeoplesearch.com, spokeo.com, and many others. These data brokers aggregate publicly available data (voter records, home sales, department directories, etc.) and compile a database that allows users to search names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. On some sites the search is free, some sites charge a fee.
They do this without your permission, and the information is generally pretty accurate. The good news is you have the right to opt out and have your information kept private. The bad news is opting out is generally a total time-consuming pain in the neck. Most sites make it deliberately difficult to remove your information. And with over 30 popular sites, it can be an almost impossible task. Worse yet, the opt-out usually needs to be done annually.
So, what can we do about this? For one, we can start the conversation with employers about the true risk and dangers of doxxing. This absolutely is a labor issue, no different than any other condition of work matter which gets negotiated. It does require a collaborative approach to be most effective. If employers are required to expose employees’ names and information to the public, then they should also be willing to provide assistance in protecting those same employees from doxxing. On the employee’s side, they need to take practical measures like maxing out their privacy setting on social media platforms (or deleting them all together).
How do employers protect employees from doxxing? Either by providing the time and resources for employees to opt out from each data broker or by purchasing a service that will do the work on behalf of the employees. Services like deleteme.com or onerep.com will remove your information from all of the data broker websites. To be most effective, the opt-out service should include the employees’ spouse and immediate family. It also needs to be proactive, because it commonly takes 30-90 days to get some data brokers to remove information. Waiting until an employee has been threatened or been involved in a public incident is way too late. If you are interested in doing the leg work yourself, here is a DIY guide on how to remove your information and opt-out of data broker websites
Doxxing lives in a legal grey area, too, because much of what is published is gathered from public information. There are very few criminal legal protections against it. Most doxxing crimes would fall under harassment or stalking statutes. It can be very difficult to prosecute, and it does not seem to be going away anytime soon.
The end goal is for our employees to feel safe in their homes and enjoy the same privacy rights as other members of the workforce. If you’re concerned about your doxxing exposure, would like additional training or information, or would like to negotiate protective measures with your employer, please contact Nutmeg so we can help you achieve your goals.