In a rare exercise in bipartisanship, Illinois lawmakers voted for a destructive bill to curtail free speech about which I warned in mid-May. Perhaps most disturbing is that not one Republican voted against HB 2954, the "Civil Liabilities for Doxing Act."
The law is not about doxing. Rather, our foolish or fiendish lawmakers used “doxing” to conceal their unconstitutional attack on the First Amendment. And our fiendish and foolish governor, J.B. Pritzker, signed it into law.
Doxing is the neologism denoting the publication of “private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge.” But, as I wrote in May, “in the Orwellian Oceania that America is becoming, ‘doxing’ in the buttinsky hands of Big Brother has now been redefined.”
In their ignoble effort to limit Illinoisans speech rights—an effort now aided and abetted by every Republican in Springfield—the new law removes the critical word “private” from the definition of doxing.
Here’s the relevant excerpt from the ethically dubious law:
Provides that an individual engages in the act of doxing when that individual intentionally publishes another person's personally identifiable information without the consent of the person whose information is published and: (1) the information is published with the intent that it be used to harm … the person whose information is published and with … reckless disregard that the person whose information is published would be reasonably likely to suffer death, bodily injury, or stalking; and (2) the publishing of the information: (i) causes the person whose information is published to suffer significant economic injury or emotional distress [i.e., significant mental suffering, anxiety, or alarm] or to fear serious bodily injury … ; or causes the person whose information is published to suffer a substantial life disruption. (emphasis added)
Note that the word “private” is inconspicuously absent. Doxing in the sullied mouths of leftists no longer refers to private information. Now “doxing’ refers to personally identifiable information. What’s next on the freedom chopping block? “Misinformation”? “Malinformation”? “Information inconvenient to Democrats”? Considering the collusion of Republicans in this legal travesty, maybe the next law will prohibit “information that redounds negatively to lawmakers.
As defined in the law, "Personally identifiable information" means “any information that can be used to distinguish or trace a person's identity, such as name, prior legal name, alias, mother's maiden name, and date or place of birth in combination with any other information that is linked or linkable to a person such as: … email address, social media accounts … education, consumer, or employment information … any other sensitive … information that is linked or linkable to a specific identifiable person, such as gender identity, sexual orientation.” (emphasis added)
In the bill, the term "substantial life disruption" “means a material and significant alteration of an individual's livelihood” and “may include, but is not limited to … or losing time at work or a job.”
So, how might this language be used?
Is it now illegal to post on social media the publicly available prior legal name or “gender identity” of a lawmaker who opposes a bill making the chemical sterilization or sexual mutilation of minors illegal, if the goal of the poster is to “harm” the lawmaker by encouraging voters to oppose his re-election? For most lawmakers, a lost election would constitute “economic injury.”
Is it now illegal for someone who writes political commentary to publish the public tweets of a public school teacher about his drug use if the goal of the writer is that the teacher be fired? Is it now illegal for a Chicago Tribune reporter to publish social media posts by a conservative lawmaker that “misgender” cross-dressers? Some may view the clause that requires the identifiable information to likely cause “death, bodily injury, or stalking” sufficient to protect speech. But, in this bitterly divided country awash in mentally ill people, doesn’t the expression of pretty much any political opinion carry the potential for assault or stalking to ensue? What criteria then constitutes “reckless disregard”?
If a mentally ill person stalks a lawmaker or public school teacher about whom someone has posted publicly available identifiable information in the hope of the lawmaker or teacher losing their jobs, could the writer be found in violation of this law?
The bill does not say that a person whose information—including personally identifiable public information—has been published needs to suffer “death, bodily injury, or stalking.” Rather, all that is required to trigger a lawsuit is that the person about whom someone published “identifiable information” “would be reasonably likely” to suffer from death, bodily injury, or stalking.
Again, what standards or criteria will be used to determine if a post about a person would be “reasonably likely” to suffer some awful fate. To be clear, this law convicts a person of a crime for saying publicly available things that someone somewhere may respond to in an act of violence.
Equally deleterious to free speech is the clause about the subjective condition of “emotional distress.” How exactly is that determined, ascertained, or measured? Couldn’t the same experience cause one lawmaker significant anxiety while causing another no anxiety? Shouldn’t laws be based on the objective wrongfulness of an act rather than the subjective responses of the object of the act?
Any political speech, especially on highly controversial issues, carries the potential to inflame the passions of mentally and morally unhinged people. Living in a free society carries some risks.
Think about the chilling effect this law will have on free speech. Illinoisans will self-censor their political speech out of fear of a crushing civil lawsuit. Even the ACLU—no longer a friend to the First Amendment—opposed the Civil Liability for Doxing Act. It saw the dangers Illinois lawmakers could not see or were too cowardly to acknowledge.
Doxing—actual doxing—should be illegal. If the leftist sponsors of HB 2954 wanted to prohibit doxing—as in publishing the home address or social security number of citizens—then they could have written a much narrower bill that balances legitimate privacy rights and safety with constitutionally protected speech rights. They could have defined doxing as Americans understand the term and dictionaries define it. But they didn’t. They wrote a poorly worded law that can and will be used against Illinoisans.
The question hanging awkwardly in the air—the question GOP lawmakers hope will disappear like the Cheshire cat’s grin—is, why did Republicans vote for it.