Father of Covington Catholic student testifies to lawmakers, pushing anti-doxing bill
Shortly after a video depicting Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann standing face to face with Nathan Phillips, a Native American protester, went viral this January, Sandmann’s personal information began spreading online, accompanied by threatening and harassing messages.
Local police stationed themselves in front of the Sandmann’s house until the Department of Homeland Security told them there were no more threats, according to Sandmann’s attorney.
The practice of releasing someone’s identifying information online is known as “doxing.” Ted Sandmann, Nick’s father, testified in front of a Kentucky Senate panel Wednesday in support of a bill that would make it illegal to “dox” a minor online with the “intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass or frighten” them.
“Had this legislation been in place today, prosecutors might be able to bring criminal charges against people like Reza Aslan (a television commentator) who responded to fake news about my son by tweeting a screenshot of Nick looking at Phillips and writing ‘Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid’s,’” said Sandmann, mentioning that Bakari Sellers of CNN agreed with Aslan.
“For the pain, fear and anxiety these two men caused Nicholas and my family, I think they deserve a criminal charge,” he added.
Critics of the bill contend it is too broad, saying it could have unintended consequences. Alongside first and last name, the bill would define identifiable information as a person’s school or employment locations, phone number, address and birthday. This could mean that posting a picture of someone wearing their school’s logo and a “harassing” message could be a crime, critics contend.
“When I first read about it, what I thought about was when I visited Soviet Russia and when I visited China and how careful I was when I got on the internet,” said Rebecca Ballard DiLoreto, a legislative agent for the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.
Todd McMurtry, one of Sandmann’s attorneys, said he understood that the bill could infringe on free speech, but he said there are already limitations on the First Amendment and he felt the legislation would help people “pause their thumbs before they press tweet.”
“A limitation on free speech that protected minors from abusive adults that did these things, and it happened millions and millions of times to Nicholas Sandmann, is not a bad thing,” McMurtry said. “It’s a good social outcome.”
The bill passed the committee on a party line vote, with eight Republicans supporting it and three Democrats opposing. Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said while he thinks doxing is serious, he’s afraid of the consequences of the legislation.
“We do need to do something about doxing. We do need to do something to help people recognize this is not how we treat others and this is not how we should behave, especially on online platforms,” McGarvey said. “But if we go and we start creating new crimes and fines, this is legislation we need to get right because it will have real consequences for real people in the meantime.”