Swatting is Not the Same as Doxing

Update: KTVU has taken down the story.

Recently I was interviewed about “doxing” by KTVU, a Bay Area news station based in Oakland. Doxing is when someone publishes documents (“dox”) about someone to the internet. It’s usually full of mundane info that can be found in a phone book and with a google search, but sometimes it also contains more sensitive information like the contents of personal emails, lists of passwords, etc.

I found out that the segment aired on TV last night when someone tweeted me asking if I really thought that “swatting” was protected by free speech laws. Swatting, I learned for the first time last night, is when someone dials 911 and reports something like a hostage situation or a terrorist bomb plot at someone else’s address in order to get a SWAT team to bust down their door.

Here’s the KTVU segment about swatting*. I’m at 3:15. Here’s the associated text article.

The question I was asked was whether or not I think we should pass new laws to combat doxing (he didn’t mention the word “swatting” the entire interview). Much of the time doxing is simply re-publishing already public information, and the rest of the time the info comes from hacking into someone’s accounts online, which is already illegal. Unauthorized access to a computer system is a felony under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, so the old laws cover it pretty well.

Swatting? My only source of information about swatting was from watching the KTVU segment, so I feel completely uninformed about the issue.

Abusing emergency services is definitely something that people should never do, since (among other issues) sometimes real emergencies need them. Seems like a dick move to me. While doxing can sometimes be harmful as well, it’s not the same as swatting.

* I would have embedded the video here, but the embed code isn’t available over https. Chrome, and soon Firefox, block mixed content to protect the security of https websites like this one.

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