Trolling, Doxing & Cyberstalking: Cybercrime & The Law

Pierluigi Paganini March 03, 2017

Trolling, Doxing & Cyberstalking: Cybercrime & The Law. Cybercrime is one of the greatest threats facing US with implications for national security.

According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), “cybercrime is one of the greatest threats facing our country and has enormous implications for our national security, economic prosperity, and public safety. The range of threats and the challenges they present for law enforcement expand just as rapidly as technology evolves.”



The US Attorney’s Office (USAO) released a report in 2016 which stated that, “under the federal cyberstalking statute, ‘cyberstalking’ includes any course of conduct or series of acts taken by the perpetrator on the Internet that place the victim in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury, or causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to the victim or the victim’s immediate family. 18 U.S.C. § 2261A (2015). However, there are a number of federal statutes that may apply in cyberstalking situations.”

The DOJ’s Office of Victims of Crime cites the following common elements of  cyberstalking:

  • Repeated, unwanted, intrusive, and frightening communications from the perpetrator by phone, mail, and/or email
  • Making direct or indirect threats to harm the victim, the victim’s children, relatives, friends, or pets
  • Harassing the victim through the Internet
  • Posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the Internet
  • Obtaining personal information about the victim by accessing public records, using Internet search services, hiring private investigators, searching through the victim’s garbage, following the victim around the internet and contacting the victim’s friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, etc.

Michigan was the first state to charge someone with online stalking. There are laws at both the state and federal levels that can be applied to cyberstalking.

“Stalking, threats, and harassment offenses used to to be primarily local law enforcement matters. But with the increased use of technology and the multi-jurisdictional nature of many of these offenses, federal law enforcement and prosecutors can offer additional resources to effectively pursue these cases that may exceed the capacity of local law enforcement.”

Zane D. Memeger, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania wrote that, “a very important tool in our effort to combat stalking and threats via the Internet is 18 U.S.C. § 875(c), which makes it a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, to transmit any communication in interstate or foreign commerce containing a threat to injure the person of another.”

In 2016, there were several federal cyberstalking convictions.

A cyberstalking conviction can have a significant impact–on your finances, reputation, ability to get a job and your freedom. Even if you are not incarcerated, a conviction can have negative impact on your parental rights and can disqualify you from employment in certain settings, such as hospitals and schools.


Doxing is the process of gathering identifiable information about an individual or group of people, with the objective to shame, scare, blackmail, defame, bully or endanger the target.

While some individuals perform doxing out of general curiosity about a person or company, others have less honorable motives. The motives may include revenge, extortion, or embarrassment. But, publicly posting an individual’s personal details is often done with the knowledge that it could potentially put the targeted individual in danger, particularly if the person is a law enforcement officer, an undercover agent or a high profile individual.

Further, a dox is likely to drag the families and sometimes friends of the target into the fray. Sadly, this sometimes includes children.

Occasionally, doxing sets the target up for further cybercrimes including identity theft, credit card and/or debit card fraud, phishing, hacking or other cyber crimes.

Posting personal information publicly with the intent to shame, defame, harass or endanger is illegal. It places the doxed individual in a potentially dangerous situation. The federal law often utilized to address doxing is 18 U.S.C. § 2261A:

“Title 18, United States Code, Section 2261A is the federal stalking statute. Section

2261A(1) covers in-person stalking and Section 2261A(2) covers cyberstalking— stalking that occurs using Internet or telephones—as well as stalking that occurs using the mail. Section 2261(2), originally enacted as part of the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, has two main provisions—Subsections (A) and (B):

  • Both provisions require that the defendant act with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person.
  • Both provisions also require the use of the mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce, or any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce. Usually, this element is met with the use of the Internet.
  • Both provisions also require that the defendant engaged in a course of conduct, meaning more than one act. Subsection (A) further requires that the course of conduct places the victim in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to, the victim, the victim’s spouse or intimate partner, or to an immediate family member of the victim. Subsection (B) requires instead that the course of conduct causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to the victim or the victim’s immediate family.”

Also, if you dox someone using a service such as Facebook, Twitter or WordPress you may be in violation of the service’s Terms of Service.

In the case of a group of individuals involved in the gathering of information, publicly posting it, sharing it or using it to harass the victim, under certain circumstances the act of one conspirator may be treated, by law, as an act of all involved. This means that all the conspirators may be held accountable for the acts committed by any one or more of them even though they did not all personally participate in that act themselves.  This is particularly important in cases in which cyberstalking, including doxing, leads to the murder of the targeted individual:

“In the case of a jointly undertaken activity, subsection (a)(1)(B) provides that a defendant is accountable for the conduct (acts and omissions) of others that was both:

  • (A)    in furtherance of the jointly undertaken criminal activity; and
  • (B)    reasonably foreseeable in connection with that criminal activity.”

It has been argued that it is reasonably foreseeable that publicly posting someone’s personal information could endanger that individual and/or members of their family.

Certain individuals have additional protection from doxing, under the law. This would include jurors, witnesses, court officers, informants and some state and local officers:

“(a)In General.—Whoever knowingly makes restricted personal information about a covered person, or a member of the immediate family of that covered person, publicly available—

  1. with the intent to threaten, intimidate, or incite the commission of a crime of violence against that covered person, or a member of the immediate family of that covered person; or
  2. with the intent and knowledge that the restricted personal information will be used to threaten, intimidate, or facilitate the commission of a crime of violence against that covered person, or a member of the immediate family of that covered person,

shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

(b) Definitions.—In this section—

(1) the term “restricted personal information” means, with respect to an individual, the Social Security number, the home address, home phone number, mobile phone number, personal email, or home fax number of, and identifiable to, that individual;

(2) the term “covered person” means—

(A) an individual designated in section 1114;

(B) a grand or petit juror, witness, or other officer in or of, any court of the United States, or an officer who may be, or was, serving at any examination or other proceeding before any United States magistrate judge or other committing magistrate;

(C) an informant or witness in a Federal criminal investigation or prosecution; or

(D) a State or local officer or employee whose restricted personal information is made publicly available because of the participation in, or assistance provided to, a Federal criminal investigation by that officer or employee”

Disclosing the identity of an individual working undercover is also often against the law. Anyone who doxes someone who is working undercover for the federal government is in violation of federal law. Those who are protected by this law include intelligence officers, agents, informants, and sources.

“Whoever, in the course of a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents and with reason to believe that such activities would impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States, discloses any information that identifies an individual as a covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such individual and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such individual’s classified intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined not more than $15,000 or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

It is also a bad idea to tip someone off that they are the focus of a federal investigation:

Obstruction of Justice by ‘Tip-Off

Although an individual who obstructs a federal investigation by tipping off the targets of the investigation is likely to incur liability either as a principal under 18 U.S.C. 2 or as an accessory after the fact under 18 U.S.C. 3, there are several federal anti-tip-off statutes like §1510, which prohibits bank officials from notifying suspects that they are under investigation, and which imposes a similar restriction on insurance company officers and employees.

(1) Except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter any person who … (e) (i) intentionally discloses, or endeavors to disclose, to any other person the contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication, intercepted by means authorized by subsections 2511(2)(a)(ii), 2511(2)(b) to (c), 2511(2)(e), 2516, and 2518 of this chapter, (ii) knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained through the interception of such a communication in connection with a criminal investigation, (iii) having obtained or received the information in connection with a criminal investigation, and (iv) with intent to improperly obstruct, impede, or interfere with a duly authorized criminal investigation … (4)(a) … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both,” 18 U.S.C.2511(1)(e), (4)(a).”

This includes social media posts that would provide warning to a suspect or suspects that they are being investigated by the federal government.

Cyberstalking & Doxing Cases

The Psychology of Trolls & Cyberstalkers

Researchers from Winnipeg found clear evidence that trolling is associated specifically with sadism and to a lesser degree with Machiavellianism. The researchers also found that trolls who admit to being sadistic report that they tend to troll because they find it to be pleasurable.

Cyberstalkers, however, are often propelled by the presence of personality disorders, poor emotional control, and antisocial tendencies.

While trolls take pleasure in their behavior, cyberstalkers are more likely to be “highly distressed and angry with the victim. While they may get secondary pleasure from it, stalkers who intimidate or threaten usually have the very specific purpose of expressing their negative feelings and making the victim feel as bad as they do.”

Trolls are in it for fun but a cyberstalker tends to be more emotionally invested in pursuing the victim. Ignoring a troll will generally make them go away, but ignoring a cyberstalker can produce an escalation in the stalking behavior. If it gets to that point, it’s time to consider involving law enforcement.

Help for Victims

The DOJ has issued recommendations for people who believe they are victims of cyberstalking. The first step should be to demand the stalker to cease all contact and stop the harassing actions. Additionally, in order to facilitate prosecution of the perpetrator, the victim should:

  1. Save all emails, messages, and other communications for evidence. It is vital that these are not altered in any way, and that the electronic copies are kept, rather than only printouts.
  2. Save all records of threats against the victim’s safety or life. This includes any written or recorded threats, and logs of the date, time, and circumstances of verbal threats.
  3. Contact the perpetrator’s internet service provider. Internet service providers (ISP) prohibit their users from using their service to harass others. Contacting the ISP may result in discontinuation of the harasser’s internet service, and will put the ISP on notice to maintain record of the harasser’s internet use.
  4. Keep detailed records of contact with ISP and law enforcement officials. It is important to keep a log of all reports made to any agency or provider, and to obtain copies of the official reports when available.

Additionally, the LookingGlass Special Investigations Unit recommends:

  • Use strong passwords (avoid clichés like birth dates)
  • Change passwords often
  • Do not use the same credentials on more than one account and never rotate or reuse old passwords
  • Do not use work emails for your social media accounts
  • Use privacy settings on social networking sites to allow only friends or connections to view the account’s content
  • Keep up-to-date on changes to privacy policy levels by frequently visiting the ‘Privacy and Security settings
  • If possible, limit your personal postings on media sites and carefully consider your comments
  • Disable geotagging features on mobile devices

Pay close attention to messages containing attachments or links to other websites; they may be infected

Written by: CandiceLanier

candicelanierAuthor Bio:

Candice Lanier is Chief Operations Officer at Ghost Cyber Intelligence, a private intel agency specializing in counterterrorism, Darknet operations, black ops and cybersecurity. Candice also writes for RedState, The Christian Post and Medium.


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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – doxing, law)

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