The newest threat to police from hardline protestors is “doxing” – the photographing of police and publishing their personal details, and sometimes that of their families, to the Internet. This tactic is not original to the Occupy Movement. Rather, it’s an import from the hardline protest movements in Britain. This issue should be of significant concern to police at all levels of operations and command, although it does have a very simple remedy.
At a number of Occupy-related protests, protestors have videoed and photographed officers’ name badges and placed these videos and photographs on the Internet with requests for people to “dox” the officers. “Doxing” is the Internet research of a target’s personal information, including the hacking of accounts where possible, followed by the publishing of that information on the Internet.
The most high profile incidents of this so far has been the “doxing” of an NYPD officer who has been disciplined for the inappropriate use of pepper spray at an Occupy Wall Street protest. This officer’s personal information, including the details of his wife and children, were placed on the Internet by Anonymous. Since we issued our assessment of the likelihood of more doxing attacks through our Demonstration Report and Threat Analysis, the second notable incident has been the doxing of the head of the Police Executive Research Forum, Chuck Wexler, for PERF’s alleged role in “coordinating attacks on the Occupy Movement.”
This tactic has been used to attempt to intimidate officers during events with protestors calling out officers’ names as they film and telling them they will be “doxed.” This is most commonly done to officers who have done something that protestors are unhappy about and those officers in command positions.
While for accountability purposes it is essential that there is a system for identifying officers during crowd management operations, making officers display their name rather than a number makes the risk of officers being “doxed” much higher. Conversely, officers concealing their numbers and/or numbers being too small to be easily read play into the narrative of lack of accountability by the police, and is likewise unacceptable.
Copwatch Oakland recently released a video identifying two officers in plain clothes at a protest event cut with footage of the same two officers in uniform at an earlier protest event. It is clear from this video that the videos being taken of officers at protest events are being used to identify officers for a number of purposes.
The introduction of doxing demonstrates the evolution of tactics by the Occupy Movement and a more worrying trend that a harder element is beginning to make itself felt in cities other than Oakland. Hardline protestor tactics evolve fairly rapidly, and the protesting community’s learning cycle draws on the global experience, not just the local experiences of the individual.
As I have posted regularly before, and we often reiterate in the Demonstration Report and Threat Analysis, protest groups study police tactics and learn from those tactics on a fast learning cycle. This learning cycle is global, not local. Effective policing combined with police accountability goes a long way in disrupting the narrative of some groups about over-zealous or violent policing, but only when the police are acting in a manner that truly is not over-zealous or violent. At the same time, police are now being targeted personally, and so departments must take care to ensure that their policing is effective, appropriate, constitutionally and morally correct, and protective of both innocent protestors and their own officers.