Ted Sandmann, father Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, on why he wants doxing legislation to criminalize revealing a minor’s identity online
Sam Upshaw Jr., Louisville Courier Journal
FRANKFORT, Ky. – A bill meant to crack down on internet “doxing” in Kentucky passed a Senate Committee on Wednesday after the father of a Covington Catholic High School student described what happened when a video of his teenage son in an encounter with a Native American leader went viral.
“My son, Nicholas Sandmann, was the victim of the most sensational Twitter attack in the history of the internet,” Ted Sandmann told the committee.
The bill easily passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee on an 8-3 vote, despite questions about whether it adds unconstitutional restrictions on free speech and whether it’s too broad.
Sandmann said “selectively edited” videos of the January encounter were viewed millions of times on social media, some accompanied with threatening comments including one that said of his son’s image, “Have you ever seen a more punchable face than this kid.”
Other comments “threatened much more violence,” Sandmann said.
Doxing involves spreading personal information about someone on the internet, generally with the intent of encouraging others to contact the individual.
Testifying before a phalanx of cameras, Sandmann said his 16-year-old son, Nick, endured a torrent of online abuse, threats and ridicule after the video of the Washington, D.C., encounter – his son in a red Make America Great Again hat face to face with the Native American leader – exploded on the internet, attracting millions of views.
“It shows how far out of control social media has become,” Sandmann said.
Sandmann appeared in support of Senate Bill 240, a measure sponsored by Sen. Wil Schroder, a Northern Kentucky Republican and candidate for attorney general.
Schroder said the bill would offer families more recourse against individuals who spread personal information and make threats online.
“That just hits the surface of how much the family’s going through,” Schroder said of Sandmann’s testimony.
Schroder’s bill would make it a crime for someone to “dox,” or disseminate personal information, about a minor on the internet that could be used to identify someone with the intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass or frighten the individual. Such information includes first and last names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, home addresses, school locations and email or telephone numbers, according to SB 240.
Such actions would be a misdemeanor but would be elevated to a felony if physical harm or monetary loss resulted. The bill also would allow people to file civil lawsuits over such actions.
The committee approved the bill despite objections raised by Rebecca DiLoreto, representing the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who said it appeared to be unconstitutional in imposing limits on free speech.
“What you pass matters,” DiLoreto told the committee. “You should want to pass laws that are constitutional and specific.”
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Louisville Democrat and lawyer who voted no, said he believes the measure is too broad and could have far-reaching consequences for people posting images or comments on the internet.
McGarvey said he’s concerned children could be prosecuted for taunting or ridiculing other children online in some circumstances.
“I believe doxing is bad,” he said. “But when we start creating new crimes and new fines, this is something we need to get right.”
Todd McMurtry, a lawyer representing the Sandmann family, said he thinks the bill would better protect children from such events.
“I think it would force people to think before they tweeted,” McMurtry said. “I think it would do a lot to make the internet, Facebook and Twitter at least a little bit safer.”
But with just a few days left in the legislative session to pass bills, its prospects are uncertain.
Schroder said after the meeting he believes it’s still possible to get the measure through the General Assembly, though time is short and lawmakers might have to revisit it next year.
“Ted Sandmann is aware that sometimes these issues don’t get through in one session,” he said.
Sandmann said the case has disrupted his family’s life and permanently affected his son, who he said did nothing wrong.
“We are still a far way from winning back my son’s reputation,” he said.
The students were on a school trip to Washington for a March for Life rally on the day of the encounter at the Lincoln Memorial.
This video clip went viral, throwing Covington Catholic into the national spotlight. Longer video has since emerged showing how the incident started.
Louisville Courier Journal
A subsequent investigation by an agency hired on behalf of the Diocese of Covington cleared the Covington Catholic students of wrongdoing, finding no students engaged in racist or offensive statements, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Initial reports suggested the Covington Catholic teens confronted and taunted a Native American group led by tribal leader Nathan Phillips, which Sandmann said Wednesday was false. Rather, he said, the Native American group approached the students, beating drums and singing as video cameras recorded the event.
A legal team representing Nick Sandmann has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking $250 million in damages against The Washington Post over its coverage of the event, the Enquirer said.
SB 240 now goes to the full Senate.
Follow Deborah Yetter Twitter: @d_yetter.
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