LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Even though a Louisville ordinance limiting some instances of doxing failed in a tie vote last month, a statewide measure had better luck.
Late last week, Gov. Andy Beshear signed Senate Bill 267, which bans doxing when the release of someone’s personal information “would cause a reasonable person to be in fear of physical injury to himself or herself, or to his or her immediate family member or household member.”
Doxing, or doxxing, is when someone’s personal information is leaked online as a way to punish or threaten them.
Last November, during a meeting with the Government Oversight and Audit Committee, Joshua Watkins with Louisville’s Office for Performance Improvement testified about his role in the city’s crime-fighting initiative that led to the deadly raid of Breonna Taylor’s apartment on March 13.
Watkins also testified about the aftermath of having his name attached to that incident.
“I’ve personally gotten death threats about this,” he said. “I had to stay in my house for 45 days and keep my head on a swivel.”
Anthony Piagentini, R-19, was stunned by Watkins’ confession.
Weeks ago, he filed an ordinance that would limit doxing in Louisville when the release of someone’s personal information is tied to a veiled threat.
“It’s not just city employees,” he explained. “There are many private citizens who have reached out since and told me stories about how they have been, because of maybe a disagreement at work or something else that they posted online, that somebody came after them.”
His ordinance dictated that “it shall be unlawful for any person to publish any personally identifying information of a person when: (1) Such publication is intended to threaten or stalk or intended to encourage another to threaten or stalk; and (2) the publication places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury.” A person in violation could face a fine (at an amount not to exceed $250).
However, in an unexpected tie vote on March 25, Metro Council voted against the ordinance. Some who voted against it said it would limit free speech and be very hard to enforce.
But since then, the state legislature and governor enacted the statewide measure.
“I think this was done in a wonderfully thoughtful way,” Piagentini said of that effort.
Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, first sponsored the bill years ago after some from his corner of the state were doxed and threatened after a viral moment involving Covington Catholic students at the Lincoln Memorial in January 2019.
“This bill’s had support from both sides of the aisle,” Schroder said. “We have seen people, unfortunately, attacked from both parties.”
Schroder says the new law is narrowly-tailored. More minor instances of doxing would be misdemeanors. Other more serious cases involving injuries or deaths would be felonies.
Additionally, the law says a violator can be sued by a victim.
Schroder believes the senate bill, since signed by Beshear, has good legal standing and won’t restrict protected speech.
“I’m a politician,” he said. “I’m sure people like to make jokes about me all the time who disagree with me. I can’t just bring some frivolous lawsuit saying that this should apply to them when it’s clearly a joke.”
Despite that bipartisan support, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky says it’s “absolutely” concerned by the new law and is disappointed in the governor’s decision to sign it. When asked about its next steps, the ACLU of Kentucky said it will take a wait-and-see approach.
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