The internet has revolutionized they way we transfer information and communicate. In 1996 Congress passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA); a federal statute found at 47 USCS § 230. Congress recognized that Americans are increasingly relying upon on interactive media for a variety of political, educational, cultural, and entertainment services. Congress also recognized the internet could be used inappropriately and enacted subsection (5) of the CDA “to ensure vigorous enforcement of Federal criminal laws to deter and punish trafficking in obscenity, stalking, and harassment by means of computer”.
California also passed Penal Code section 653.2 making it a misdemeanor to use electronic communication to harass people and subject them to risk of harm. “Harassment” means a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that a reasonable person would consider as seriously alarming, seriously annoying, seriously tormenting, or seriously terrorizing the person and that serves no legitimate purpose.
This statute codifies “doxing” which is s search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the internet, typically with malicious intent. Hackers and online vigilantes routinely dox both public and private figures.
There is a fine line between protected speech and doxing resulting in harassment.