Reddit moderator and 'doxing' victim says police reaction lacklustre
'Nobody puts somebody's name and address up there so that other people can send them flowers'
A Halifax man who says he was harassed and doxed on a local internet message board says he's had a "frustrating" time trying to get authorities to investigate, even though Nova Scotia has laws against it.
Doxing — a shorthand for the act of dropping or publicizing documents — is the practice of posting a person's personal information online, often against a person's wishes.
Blake Hebb is a moderator on the popular online forum Reddit, where he says a recent thread about the upcoming federal election got out of control. The political escalated to the personal when Hebb said a user posted Hebb's full name and the street he lived on.
"There are very few rules Reddit as an entity enforces, but one of the main ones is don't post personal information," says Hebb.
The user was banned from Reddit, but opened new accounts — 36 of them in all.
"It was this game of whack-a-mole," Hebb said. "I'm sure a person could have better hobbies."
The user continued to taunt Hebb and posted his full name, date of birth, email address, mailing address and phone number.
'It's still the principle of the thing'
Hebb says he's not pretending the internet is private, but believes the intent of doxing is vengeful.
"It's easy to find, it's easy to know. You're not supposed to share it, especially maliciously. It's like saying, 'Hey, call this person and harass this person for me,'" he said.
"It's not the worst thing I've seen on the internet, but it's still the principle of the thing."
After a few days of dealing with the user, Hebb called the Cole Harbour RCMP to report the doxing. Because Reddit users use screen names, Hebb doesn't have the name of the person who posted his personal information.
He was told police would have to open a Reddit account to get the user's internet protocol address and "they didn't want to make an account," according to Hebb.
A few days later, Hebb followed up with police and was told the doxing would have to be ongoing for more than a month in order to be considered harassment.
'Law is too new'
"Either this person gets bored or they do it for an entire month and then maybe the RCMP care," said Hebb.
When Hebb mentioned Nova Scotia's Cyber-Safety Act, introduced in 2013, he said the officer told him, "We don't know if this is cyberbullying because the law is too new."
"It's been a more frustrating experience than dealing with this person online," said Hebb.
Nova Scotia RCMP and Halifax Regional Police say this is the first case of doxing they've heard of. The RCMP doesn't comment on specific cases.
The CyberScan unit, which was established to crack down on cyberbullying, says their involvement depends on what the user is doing with the personal information. If it's used to bully someone online, they can investigate. If someone uses personal information to harass an individual offline, it's a police matter.
They referred CBC News to the police on the question of doxing.
Reasonable expectation of privacy
"Just on the face of that, that makes me quite concerned," said David Fraser, a privacy and technology lawyer at McInnes Cooper in Halifax.
"I have seen, in interactions with the police, circumstances where they don't know what to make of things online."
The Cyber-Safety Act defines cyberbullying as electronic communication "intended or ought reasonably be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person's health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation."
Doxing fits into that description, said Fraser.
"Nobody puts somebody's name and address up there so that other people can send them flowers. The reason for that, at least from what I observed, is consistently for the purpose of intimidation," he said.
"You do have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your anonymity when you're online and are proceeding under a pseudonym, screen name or otherwise."
Hebb is still hoping for some movement in his case.
"Ideally, I would like the RCMP to actually do something about this. I feel like the person has committed a crime," he said.
"But if the person just knocked it off and went away and went about the rest of their life, I would be OK with that."