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The Trump Jury Has a Doxing Problem

The Trump Jury Has a Doxing Problem

You’ve been asked to serve on the jury in the first-ever criminal prosecution of a United States president. What could possibly go wrong? The answer, of course, is everything.

A juror in former US president Donald Trump’s ongoing criminal trial in New York was excused on Thursday after voicing fears that she could be identified based on biographical details that she had given in court. The dismissal of Juror 2 highlights the potential dangers of participating in one of the most politicized trials in US history, especially in an age of social media frenzies, a highly partisan electorate, and a glut of readily available personal information online.

Unlike jurors in federal cases, whose identities can be kept completely anonymous, New York law allows the personal information of jurors and potential jurors to be divulged in court. Juan Merchan, the judge overseeing Trump’s prosecution in Manhattan, last month ordered that jurors’ names and addresses would be withheld. But he could not prevent potential jurors from providing biographical details about themselves during the jury selection process, and many did. Those details were then widely reported in the press, potentially subjecting jurors and potential jurors to harassment, intimidation, and threats—possibly by Trump himself. Merchan has since blocked reporters from publishing potential jurors’ employment details.

The doxing dangers potential jurors face became apparent on Monday, day one of the proceedings. An update in a Washington Post liveblog about Trump’s trial revealed the Manhattan neighborhood where one potential juror lived, how long he’d lived there, how many children he has, and the name of his employer. Screenshots of the liveblog update quickly circulated on social media, as people warned that the man could be doxed, or have his identity revealed publicly against his will, based solely on that information.

“It’s quite alarming how much information someone skilled in OSINT could potentially gather based on just a few publicly available details about jurors or potential jurors,” says Bob Diachenko, cyber intelligence director at data-breach research organization Security Discovery and an expert in open source intelligence research.

Armed with basic personal details about jurors and certain tools and databases, “an OSINT researcher could potentially uncover a significant amount of personal information by cross-referencing all this together,” Diachenko says. “That’s why it’s crucial to consider the implications of publicly revealing jurors’ personal information and take steps to protect their privacy during criminal trials.”

Even without special OSINT training, it can be trivial to uncover details about a juror’s life. To test the sensitivity of the information the Post published, WIRED used a common reporting tool to look up the man’s employer. From there, we were able to identify his name, home address, phone number, email address, his children and spouse’s identities, voter registration information, and more. The entire process took roughly two minutes. The Post added a clarification to its liveblog explaining that it now excludes the man’s personal details.

The ready availability of those details illustrates the challenges in informing the public about a highly newsworthy criminal case without interfering in the justice process, says Kathleen Bartzen Culver, director, professor, and James E. Burgess Chair in Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication.