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Citing BDS ‘Mapping Project,’ lawmakers call for DHS assessment on cyber harassment, doxing

‘We have seen antisemitic groups weaponize the data of victims. Jewish citizens and businesses have been targeted by this doxing,’ Rep. Don Bacon said

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) speaks to reporters on his way to a closed-door GOP caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol January 10, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Citing the Massachusetts “Mapping Project” that alleged an antisemitic conspiracy theory, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday that would require the Department of Homeland Security to assess the threat posed by cyber harassment and doxing by terrorists and malign foreign actors.

The “Doxing Threat Assessment Act,” introduced by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Don Bacon (R-NE) and 23 co-sponsors, would direct DHS to report on the risks posed to both national security and individual privacy by the potential online activities of such malicious actors. 

The requested threat assessment would include a summary of cyber harassment strategies used by terrorists and foreign malign actors, a history of notable incidents, a review of threats from potential capabilities of U.S. adversaries and potential ways for law enforcement agencies to identify terrorist and foreign cyber harassment activity.

A press release by Wasserman Schultz’s office highlighted that the Mapping Project, which was organized by an anonymous group of BDS supporters and included the locations of Jewish groups and institutions across Massachusetts, had been endorsed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Iranian state-run media.

FBI officials said they were monitoring the project when it was first published, and lawmakers urged federal law enforcement to investigate its potential as a “roadmap for violent attacks by supporters of the BDS movement against the people and entities listed therein.” No publicly reported threats or attacks have originated from the project, and no direct links to terror groups have been demonstrated.

“Extremists are exploiting our online platforms to spread private information and incite violence against vulnerable individuals and groups,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “Arming our national security officials and law enforcement with knowledge of how these groups operate and for identifying vulnerabilities and preventing attacks is a first step to protect our communities from harm.”  

Bacon specifically linked the legislation to antisemitic threats in his own statement on the bill.

“This is a new frontier, and we need more information on the threat doxing poses, as we have seen anti-Semitic groups weaponize the data of victims. Jewish citizens and businesses have been targeted by this doxing,” he said. “With more information, our law enforcement will be able to develop a more robust approach to the protections of Americans and their data.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who also endorsed the legislation, linked it specifically to the Mapping Project.

“Last year, the Boston Mapping project, an antisemitic attempt to target and intimidate Jewish affiliated organizations across Massachusetts, including ADL, raised concerns about the threat of digital abuse, doxing, and other malicious activities from at home and abroad,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “I applaud and thank Reps. Wasserman Schultz and Bacon for their partnership in introducing bipartisan legislation to assess the threat of cyber harassment in an effort to drive policy to better protect vulnerable communities.” 

Addressing potential constitutional concerns on First Amendment grounds, the legislation notes that “the Constitution does not protect speech, conduct, or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit or committing an act of violence.” Republicans have largely balked in recent years at efforts to moderate or monitor online content.

Bacon was the only Republican signatory to the bill, which was co-sponsored by Reps. Becca Balint (D-VT), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Dan Goldman (D-NY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Greg Landsman (D-OH), Seth Magaziner (D-RI), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Wiley Nickel (D-NC), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Scott Peters (D-CA), Pat Ryan (D-NY), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Susan Wild (D-PA).

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