CBS News reported that after the fatal shooting of a man by a LAPD police officer, someone posted the officer’s private information online, including his home address, phone number, and other personal details including his child’s school location.
This practice of researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual is referred to as doxing (or doxxing) and is typically done with malicious intent. The information published can be anything from home addresses to vehicle identification to social media accounts to credit card and banking information. Though technically legal, as long as the information is publicly available, Doxing can still fall under state criminal laws if the information obtained is used for infiltrating private data, financial gain, stalking, harassment or identity theft. Doxing is becoming enough of a concern that the FBI and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) have issued warnings to law enforcement and public officials.
Protecting Yourself And Your Family
American Military University (AMU) recently hosted a webinar on this topic as part of its Law Enforcement Webinar Series. Presenter James Deater, who spent more than 23 years as a Maryland State Trooper specializing in wiretaps and other forms of electronic investigation techniques, provided advice for how officers can protect themselves.
“Any officer could end up in a situation where you do everything right in accordance with agency policy, but the incident is captured on video and it looks wrong to the public. It happens all the time and as soon as your name is released to the public, you become a target,” said Deater. “You may not be able to stop it, but you can at least make it difficult for people to find your private information.”
Here are some recommendations Deater made about how to protect your personal information:
- Be aware of security and privacy settings on your accounts. Be selective about who you share information with and limit how often you post about your location (especially if it’s your home).
- Routinely update computers, devices, and software with the latest security fixes.
- Use anti-virus software.
- Pay close attention to links and attachments in email messages. Do not open anything that looks even remotely suspicious. If it’s legitimate, the person can always send it again.
- Add protection to your email, social media and online bank accounts using two-factor authentication techniques.
- Choose unique, strong passwords for each of your accounts and change your passwords regularly.
- Remember that anything you post on social media might be used against you. Once it’s online, you cannot take it back.
Request Information Be Removed
During the webinar, Deater discussed ways that officers can proactively remove personal information from the dozens of websites that sell this information. He included specific details about what forms to submit, what identification documents to send, and how long it will take for information to be removed. However, some of this information is law enforcement-sensitive and cannot be included in this piece. If you are a police officer, you can request to view the recorded webinar by sending an email (using your agency email address) to James Deater (JDeater@apus.edu).
Here are a few sites to consider removing your information from:
- Google Earth – This free software allows individuals to access street views of locations. Deater recommends that officers submit a request that Google blur out your home, house number, vehicle and any other identifying details shown.
It can take a considerable amount of time and effort to properly submit the forms, especially if officers are also removing their spouses and children from such databases. However, the time it takes to remove this information is worth it to protect, or at least deter, a malicious attack on an officer and his or her family.
While the threat of doxing for public officials and law enforcement officers is largely a function of poor personal security, the FBI has drastically increased its approach in reactively addressing all security threats, following a series of high-profile and tangentially related attacks on Sony and the Office of Personnel Management.
Leischen Stelter is the editor of American Military University’s premier blog, In Public Safety. She writes about issues and trends relevant to professionals in law enforcement, corrections, fire services, emergency management and national security.