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Nevada lawmakers advance bill against organized harassment

April 17, 2021 GMT

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) —

Heather Korbulic says she was driven out of her job as the head of Nevada’s unemployment agency last June because of threats to her personal safety.

Korbulic had been “doxxed” and had her personal information circulated online without her permission.

Nevada lawmakers are now considering whether to make people who undertake organized harassment — commonly known as doxxing — legally accountable for their acts. If passed, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen, a Las Vegas Democrat, would ban the practice and allow victims to pursue civil penalties against perpetrators, the Las Vegas Sun reported.

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“People were personally attacking those individuals on social media, sending people to their house, coming outside their house,” Nguyen said. “They were not public officials, they were not doing anything. They were just trying to live their lives and do their jobs.”

Korbulic, then the interim director of the state Department of Unemployment, Training and Rehabilitation, received online threats to her physical safety and saw her personal information shared online in the wake of delays in jobless benefits at the height of the pandemic. Nevada hit a historic unemployment rate of 30.1% in April 2020 after business closures.

In a committee hearing, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, a Mindem Republican, noted that harassment campaigns target members of both parties and said he previously had his address published online by extremist groups, though ultimately there was no incident.

“Thank God for the Douglas County sheriff and our legislative police here that nothing happened with my grandkids in the house that weekend. I get it, let’s put it that way,” Wheeler said.

The bill passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee unanimously on April 9. It has not received any significant opposition, but attorneys from the Nevada branch of the American Civil Liberties Union raised concerns about infringing on people’s First Amendment rights.

Holly Wellborn, the group’s policy director, said many defining moments in recent struggles against racism included people sharing videos and identifying information about people on the internet.

“Posting information online and in other forums is one of the few ways that ordinary people have to hold people in a position of power accountable,” Wellborn said. “Statute cannot under any circumstances be used by a government official — whether that is a police officer or a legislator — as a tool to punish innocent behavior and constitutionally protected speech.”

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The bill originally would have allowed for criminal charges to be brought against doxxers, though Nguyen took that provision out of the bill in response to the First Amendment concerns.

“Getting the language (right) is a priority for, I think, everyone, to make sure that it isn’t manipulated or abused or used in a way that it was never intended to be,” she said.

There is no federal law explicitly involving doxxing, though many associated acts such as stalking and harassment are covered by federal law. Legislators from Oregon and West Virginia have also discussed anti-doxxing legislation this year.

Under the Nevada bill, a doxxing victim could file a lawsuit against someone who shares the victim’s personal information online with the intent to aid criminal offenses ranging from death to harassment.

Nguyen said the language is “narrowly tailored to those people that are inciting violence or mental anguish.”

Jolie Brislin, Nevada regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the prevalence of online harassment is high.

“We know that hate and extremism are on the rise, and digital spaces are not immune,” she said.

An ADL study released this year found 27% of respondents had experienced online harassment, including 64% of LGBTQ respondents and 36% of Jewish respondents.

Asian-Americans, a group which has seen a rise in racism incidents over the past year, reported that 17% had experienced online harassment, a rise from 11% the year before.