With the increased use of social media and mobile phones, it is unsurprising that we often get the latest news online.
While it is incredibly convenient and far-reaching in a short time, it is a double-edged sword for the same reasons.
When things happen to us – both good news and inconveniences- the urge to post it to our social media platforms is so natural and strong.
But how do we strike a balance between telling our story against the protection of someone else’s identity and privacy? When we cross a line, doxxing laws come into play.
Read more: Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) – What You Should Know.
What is Doxxing?
Doxxing is a word that has increased in relevance over the recent years, together with increased connectivity across the globe and the continued advancement of technology. It is so new that the laws that make doxxing illegal were only passed as recently as January 2020.
For your understanding, one example of doxxing in 2021 is a TikTok influencer creating a Telegram group for girls to anonymously share details about guys who allegedly dated them. In another case, a woman ripped a licence plate off a car in road rage, with onlookers posting personal information about her and her family online after that.
Doxxing is the act of “publish(ing) the private personal information of another person without the consent of that individual”.
In Singapore law, it occurs when there is the publication of the identity information of someone or people related to them to harass, threaten, or facilitate violence against them.
What then qualifies as identity information? And thus, what counts as doxxing?
According to section 2 Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) (“the Act”), one’s “identity information” refers to any information that “identifies, or purports to identify an individual”, be it “on its own or with other information”.
A non-exhaustive list of examples includes:
- Name, residential address, contact numbers, date of birth, NRIC number
- Photographs or video recordings
- Information about someone’s family, employment, or education
Types of Doxxing Offences under POHA
In the Act, 3 different categories of offences fall under the umbrella term of “doxxing” – while, as mentioned, they are all concerned with the publication of personal and identity information, they differ as to its effect.
- Under section 3 of the Act, a person will be guilty of an offence if they publish someone else’s personal information to cause harassment, alarm, or distress.
“knowing or having cause to believe” that the victim believes unlawful violence is likely to be used against them or someone around them.
- Also under section 5, a person will be guilty of an offence if they publish someone else’s personal information with the “intent to” – or “knowing, or having cause to believe” – that it is likely to facilitate the use of unlawful violence against them or someone around them.
For the offences under section 3, the publisher must have intended the “harassment, alarm or distress” caused for them to be found guilty.
An example is X and Y used to have a relationship that has since ended. X writes a post on a social media platform in which they make abusive and insulting remarks about Y’s alleged sexual promiscuity.
In another post, X provides Y’s photos and personal phone number and intends to harass Y by making it easier for others to identify or contact Y. Y has not seen the posts but is harassed by phone calls and text messages from strangers (who have read the posts) who proposition Y for sex. X is guilty of an offence under section 3(2) concerning each Post.
Note that a person can be guilty of an offence even if the person affected is someone other than the target person, according to Section 3(1) of the Act.
Under section 5 of the Act, a person or entity (company or association, or body of persons (whether corporate or unincorporated, but excludes any public agency) can be found guilty of either the offence of causing the fear of the use of unlawful violence or of facilitating the use of unlawful violence even if they did not have the intention to cause the person (the victim) to fear the use of violence.
Consequently, even if they may not have intended to facilitate violence, they can be found guilty. Just the knowledge or the fact that they ought to have known that the above outcome was likely is sufficient to find them guilty. The examples of what might fall within this section are more intuitive.
From the illustrations alone, it is clear that there has to be a threat, or abusive remarks, coupled with the person’s personal information as defined in section 2.
Nevertheless, it bears noting that for the offence relating to the fear of violence – in section 5(1)(a)(i) & section 5(1A)(a)(i) of the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), and their corresponding sections 5(1)(b)(i) & 5(1A)(b)(i), – it has to be directed to the person who was doxxed for the publisher to be found guilty.
Penalties for Doxxing Offences in Singapore
Doxxing brings with it serious consequences as part of the general effort to ensure safety and, to a certain degree, privacy, with the rapid rise of the Internet.
- Under to the Act, those convicted under section 3 can be fined up to $5,000 or jailed up to 6 months, or both.
- Those convicted under section 5 can be fined up to $5,000, jailed up to 12 months, or both.
That said, there are possible defences to such cases. In section 4(3) and section 5(3), it is stated that a possible defence is if (1) the Accused had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used would be “heard, seen or otherwise perceived” by the victim, or if (2) the Accused conduct was reasonable.
It is better to err on the side of caution and note what shouldn’t be shared.
FAQs on Doxxing in Singapore
What is & isn’t considered doxxing?
- In an online forum where people share videos of dangerous acts of driving, posting a video of a person driving recklessly and warning people to drive defensively.
- Uploading a video of a public dispute and a factual description of what you observed.
- To take the necessary action, disclosing an individual’s identity information to emergency services or other public authorities.
- Posting a video of an interview where a public figure is being asked about publicly known facts.
- Using social media to publish abusive and insulting remarks about a person’s sexual promiscuity, along with the person’s photos and contact details, to facilitate the identification or contact of the person.
- You post a video containing a publicly known person’s contact information, asking others to attack or threaten him.
- Post someone’s identity information on a website or comment thread where others have called for that person to be identified to threaten or attack him.
Can I be charged for doxxing for acts done before doxxing laws were enacted?
Before 1 January 2020, Singapore’s doxxing laws will not apply to individuals who committed acts that may be considered doxxing.
What actions can be taken?
If you find yourself a victim of doxxing, approach a law firm to make a police report, submit a letter requesting the removal of offensive content, apply for a Personal Protection Order (PPO), and file a civil claim.
What can GJC Law Do to Help?
If you find yourself a victim of doxxing in Singapore, you may wish to seek the help from our criminal lawyers to help you navigate the complex legal system and provide you with the necessary representation to protect your rights and interests.
Here are some ways our Lawyers can help if you find yourself a victim of doxxing:
- Police Report: Our Lawyers can assist you in reviewing the available evidence (such as emails and screenshots) and in filing the police report, which may prompt the police to investigate the doxxing and to take appropriate actions against the perpetrator(s).
- Letter to Website or Platform: If the doxxing occurred via a social media platform or website, our Criminal Lawyers could aid you in contacting them to report the incident and request that the offending content be taken down.
- Personal Protection Order (“PPO”): Our Lawyers can help you apply for a PPO under the Protection of Harassment Act. If the Court determines that you have been a victim of doxxing and there is a likelihood of it continuing, a PPO may be granted. The Court may also order the individual(s) responsible to stop publishing the offending content and/or require the website or platform to disable access to the offending content.
- Civil Claim: Our lawyers can assist a civil claim against the individual(s) who carried out the doxxing to seek monetary compensation as damages for any harm or adverse effects resulting from their actions.
GJC Law credits Noelle Teoh for her research and advice.