Capital West News

HB225: “Doxing and “swatting” bill concerns First Amendment advocates

The east side of the Utah Capitol.


By David Boyle

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed crackdown on cyber crime is being partially reined back after critics have raised First Amendment concerns. The bill is likely dead for the session after a committee “held” it on Feb. 16.

Utah lawmakers will meet until March 10 to consider myriad bills and proposals. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, has introduced legislation to increase punishment for those who engage in Internet crimes. HB225, Cybercrime Amendments, specifically targets crimes known as “doxing” and “swatting.” The bill has been assigned to be heard by a House committee.

Doxing is the act of releasing personal information about a person publicly online. Oftentimes, these releases are accompanied by intimidating threats toward the targets of doxing. Releasing personal information online while encouraging others to commit crimes against the victim is understandably dangerous. However, issues have been raised concerning First Amendment rights.

Originally, HB225 included criminal charges against those who release personal information with the intent to “annoy, offend, and frighten.” Lifferth is removing these phrases particularly as they don’t necessarily indicate malicious intent. Critics have expressed that HB225 would be a violation of freedom of speech.

“Doxing is not necessarily a crime,” Lifferth said.

The representative explained that posting information online is not illegal in and of itself; but that it should be in some instances.

Lifferth explained doxing should be illegal “when they obtain personal information, including name, phone number, bank information, and they then encourage others to threaten violence or commit a crime against (the exposed victims).”

Hackers will release personal information in hopes that others will commit the online crime known as ‘swatting’. Swatting is when a person uses the Internet to anonymously prank call 911 to report a violent crime in hopes of getting local law enforcement to respond with SWAT units. Swatting is not only very dangerous for the unsuspecting victims, but is also expensive for the responding departments and consequently taxpayers.

Utah has seen a few recent cases of swatting, including a case with a juvenile resident of Lifferth’s district.

In August of 2015, the 16-year-old boy from Saratoga Springs was arrested in connection to a bomb threat to Westlake High School.

Currently, swatting is a class B misdemeanor; Lifferth’s legislation would pass down harsher punishments to violators.

Major Brian Redd, the director of the State Bureau of Investigation, is familiar with the issues with cybercrime one of the biggest issues is prosecution.

“Prosecution can be an issue, especially if the crime occurs in different countries.” Redd said.

The Cybercrime Amendments bill would also update technological language in the state code, and increase penalties of infiltrating online critical infrastructure. This would punish those that breach systems regardless of whether or not the infiltrator had malicious intent.