Following a contentious year of political and social unrest that saw not only radical violence in the streets of Portland but also a growing number of vicious attacks online, Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill to allow victims of “doxing” – the practice of publishing an individual’s personal information online with the intent to harass them – to have their day in court.
HB 3047, which would allow victims of doxing to sue their harassers, passed the House of Representatives unanimously in April.
In the House, testimony on the bill came largely from two groups — law enforcement and anti-police protesters — each of whom, while unable to agree on much else, apparently found some common ground in the experience of having their personal details hit the open market.
Yet during the bill’s first Senate committee hearing earlier this month, the biggest surprise to lawmakers might have been that it’s not just those on the “fringes” – like rabid antifascists and their far-right counterparts – who are guilty of harassing people they don’t like.
It’s also done by government unions.
Freedom Foundation paralegal Grace Helland, who also works part time as an in-home family caregiver represented by SEIU 503, attended the hearing in her personal capacity to express her strong support for HB 3047 and tell committee members about her experience with doxing. Grace’s personal information was posted online as part of a coordinated campaign by several unions, including her own, to prevent public employees from learning of their right to cease unwanted union dues deductions from their paychecks.
“Because of my work at the Freedom Foundation to inform people of their rights,” Helland told the committee, “I was doxed on a website… supported by several unions and run by a blogger named Peter Starzynski. He posted [my] home address and birthdate, in addition to posting pictures, home addresses, and birthdates of fellow caregivers who were working with me.”
“I was still a teenager when this happened,” she continued.
The website in question is a well-known project of the “Northwest Accountability Project”, an anti-Freedom Foundation front group funded almost exclusively by the national SEIU. Coincidentally, the site was taken down shortly before the Oregon Legislature’s 2021 session began and HB 3047 was introduced – though archived versions of it remain.
Then again, perhaps the site’s disappearance wasn’t coincidental at all.
After all, it was also a bit curious that SEIU 503, which had shown no prior interest in HB 3047, suddenly dispatched a lobbyist to testify opposite Grace on the bill. Although the lobbyist claimed that SEIU’s interest stemmed from a “growing and concerning issue” with the harassment of state workers tasked with enforcing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, she offered no specific examples and provided no written testimony.
She did, however, express SEIU 503’s position that “no one should be subject to doxing” – before carefully adding, “generally.”
The union’s sudden involvement mostly seemed like an attempt to get something – anything – on the record to offset the embarrassment of being outed for “doxing” an employee they represent.
And the introduction of a mysterious last-minute amendment to further erode the state’s public records law doesn’t help its case.
The amendment, which SEIU 503 supported, would double down on provisions currently shielding public employee contact information from disclosure. Given SEIU 503’s well-known history of meddling in that arena, it was enough for The Oregonian to draw its own conclusions about the union’s possible involvement.
At the end of the day, the committee hearing on HB 3047 wasn’t exactly SEIU’s best showing. Not only did the union get exposed for “doxing” the very people it claims to represent but, ironically, it happened right after the union’s lobbyist told committee members that SEIU 503 members were the victims of doxing (which, ironically, was correct).
And whether or not the union had anything to do with the proposed amendment, it’s unlikely the idea will catch on. The amendment drew widespread opposition from many, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Society of Professional Journalists, the Oregon Attorney General’s office, and Rep. Bill Post (R-Keizer), one of the bill’s chief sponsors.
“It has nothing to do with this bill,” Rep. Post explained.
He was right. The aim of the bill is much simpler – and purer – than any meddling with Oregon’s public records law would accomplish. As Ms. Helland told the committee, “Doxing is an easy way for people and organizations to work outside of the judicial system to punish and try to shut down people who believe contrary to how they do. It is done with no regard to the rights, age, or safety of other people.”
Even unions like SEIU can’t publicly disagree with that.
But as Oregon lawmakers recently learned, it doesn’t mean they don’t do it anyway.
Note: The full committee hearing on HB 3047 can be viewed here. SEIU 503’s testimony begins at 58:10, and Ms. Helland’s testimony follows at 1:00:45.