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Brown and Mandelson: It's Love

Peter Mandelson once spoke of how Gordon Brown “wants to kill me before I destroy him”, but now the

There is a compelling black-and-white photograph from 1996 of Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown by the fine Magnum photographer Peter Marlow. Brown, his head slightly lowered, has his back to the camera, somehow reinforcing the sense of his volcanic presence in a wood-panelled room of the Institution of Civil Engineers, where the men are alone before some long-forgotten youth employment launch. Would the moment that First Secretary Mandelson tells Prime Minister Brown the game is up, if it were ever to happen, look something like this? In faultlessly pressed white shirt and cufflinks, jacketless, his pose courtierly, Mandelson is in profile. Almost, but not quite, apprehensive, he has the facial expression of a man waiting patiently for an answer that he knows, with just the faintest trace of sympathy, the other does not want to give. As in a classic narrative painting, the tension is palpable.

As well it might have been. For Marlow has frozen an instant in the most pivotal few months of what by then already seemed an irretrievably dysfunctional relationship. Only four months earlier, Tony Blair had written to remind Mandelson that “we are not players in some Greek tragedy” and lamented that “the most brilliant political minds of their generation” are “more desirous of victory over each other than making it work”. This followed a letter of “resignation” from Mandelson after a particularly poisonous row. Mandelson quoted the Brown ally Michael Wills as saying that “Gordon ‘wants to kill me before I destroy him’”.

Yet by the time the picture is taken, Mandelson, eager for a fashionable and expensive home in Notting Hill, has been house-hunting under the genial tutelage of Geoffrey Robinson, the millionaire MP, close friend of Brown and then owner of the New Statesman. Weeks later the two men would finalise the £373,000 loan from Robinson that, in the single most self-destructive act of his career, Mandelson would keep secret as he began his rise through government under the patronage of Tony Blair.

Until, that is, details of the loan were leaked to the press in December 1998 by other close allies of Brown, causing Mandelson’s first resignation from the cabinet. Brown was not responsible for the leak, but it was the climax of what Blair had called in his letter a “titanic but ultimately irrelevant personality feud”. Yet it was a feud that no one, least of all the then British prime minister, knew how to stop.

A decade later, Brown and Mandelson are all but joined at the hip. The clutch of Merrie England titles that Mandelson has acquired in his new role reflects his centrality in the government. There was speculation at the time of the reshuffle that Mandelson had sought to be foreign secretary – certainly a job he has long wanted.

In fact, it was never a possibility. He is too pivotal to be allowed long absences from the UK. He now spends much of his time in Downing Street – including, by all counts, many evenings that end with his urging the Prime Minister to go to bed. He even coexists, albeit warily, with Ed Balls, easily Brown’s closest ministerial confidant hitherto. Today, joined in their service to the Prime Minister, they have a “non-aggression” pact in which, while Balls continues bilateral telephone contact with Brown, the two lieutenants do not contradict each other at meetings and do not brief against other. Finally, Mandelson is credited, even by those who wished it had not happened, with “saving” the Prime Minister during the period of maximum turbulence around the Euro elections this month.

How did all this happen? How did Mandelson’s sworn enemy come first to bring him back into government and then to locate him as primus inter pares among his ministers? And how will it end? After all, it was not as if the enmity did not survive in-tact well into Mandelson’s appointment as European trade commissioner in 2004. Even while Brown was still chancellor, Mandelson would regularly, if only semi-openly, complain to British correspondents in Brussels about the Treasury’s refusal to consult with him.

After Brown became Prime Minister relations with Mandelson became, if anything, worse. The Brussels press corps were left with the impression that the commissioner thought Brown might not be up to taking on what he indicated was the impressive challenge being mounted by David Cameron. Then, in March 2007, at a time when the widely known freeze in relations between the commissioner and his home-country government was already undermining his authority in Brussels, Mandelson chose to give a chilly radio interview in which he announced that he had decided to deny Brown the pleasure of sacking him by not seeking a second term. It was a new low point.

The bare facts of the subsequent and gradual rapprochement during the first half of 2008 are well documented: the prime ministerial visit to Brussels and the long talk between the two men about anything but trade. The London dinner given by Stewart Wood, the only No 10 official then permitted contact with Mandelson, to which were invited both Mandelson and Baroness Shriti Vadera, a tough-minded and long-standing ally of Brown’s, to whom Mandelson greatly warmed. The lunch, also in London, Mandelson had with the veteran Downing Street (and former Treasury) official Jeremy Heywood, before which the Prime Minister asked Heywood if he could come, too. Heywood politely refused, but the lunch was followed by another long tête-à-tête between Brown and Mandelson, this time in Downing Street.

Even before this, however, Brown followed up on his Brussels trip – after a short interval – by starting to telephone Mandelson, to send him speech drafts and policy proposals. In short, to consult him. By all accounts the gradually intensifying appeal was notably personal, a call for help by a man who was discovering that being prime minister was a good deal more complicated than being chancellor. But Mandelson, his friends are convinced, had no notion at this stage that he might return to government.

It is easy to describe the invitation to Mandelson to rejoin the cabinet in October last year (and the thaw that preceded it) in merely political terms. For Brown, the appointment added much-needed lustre to an otherwise routine reshuffle. More importantly, and even if the prospects of a challenge from David Miliband had faded, it served to neutralise what he saw as a still potent Blairite threat to his premiership. From Mandelson’s point of view it was, in Blair’s now famous phrase when a stunned Mandelson consulted him about the offer, a “no-brainer”.

Despite having arguably the best job in the European Commission – given that trade, unlike many of the other portfolios, is actually in the commission’s competence – he missed the action in London; he was in danger of becoming a “lame duck” because of his decision not to seek a second term and because of the wide perception, even if it was becoming much less accurate, that he had been frozen out by London. And there was little sign of a successful conclusion to the world trade round, which might have crowned his term in Brussels. (Blair’s advice, similarly solicited by Alastair Campbell, whom Brown also offered more or less any job he wanted, was more equivocal. Campbell refused the job offer; he had built another life, which he enjoyed.)

Yet politics alone cannot explain the subsequent and growing intimacy between the two men, or the relative ease with which they exorcised the demons of the previous 13 years. The psychological roots almost certainly lie further still in their past.

It is easy to forget now the cohesiveness of this triangle, before John Smith’s death in 1994, that had gradually formed since the “discovery” of Mandelson as Labour’s communications director, and the subsequent promotion of the backbenchers Brown and Blair as early as the run-up to the 1987 election. Alex Stevenson, working as a young researcher for Mandelson, recalled that, during 1993, when the group felt relatively isolated as “modernisers”, there were “incessant” telephone calls from Blair and Brown, but that those from Brown were even more frequent. The three men’s closeness – with a largely unspoken understanding that Brown was the leading figure of the three – can scarcely be exaggerated. Probably no one but Mandelson and Brown remembers that it was the latter who painstakingly advised the former on his crucial speech to the selection conference that chose him as parliamentary candidate for Hartlepool in 1989 – and actually wrote the peroration of it.

The best analogy to describe the relationship is that of two brothers who quarrel bitterly over a legacy – in this case the leadership of the Labour Party and the premiership – but are finally reconciled, resuming their old warmth. This is the view of two former officials who worked in Downing Street during the worst of the Mandelson-Brown schism and experienced it first-hand. One says now, “I think the reason they were so angry with each other was that they had been so close.” The other puts it even more forcefully: “It’s impossible to hate someone that much unless you also love them.”

Even during the worst of the feud, the bond was never quite broken. When Mandelson’s mother, Mary, the daughter of Herbert Morrison and the most formative political influence of his life, died in 2006, during yet another peak of Brown-Mandelson hostilities, Brown telephoned Mandelson in Brussels to express his condolences. The conversation was awkward but the call was memorable enough for Mandelson to report it to his closest friends.

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Anatomy of a feud

1994 After the death of the Labour leader John Smith in 1994, Peter Mandelson sidelines his old friend Gordon Brown and backs the more popular Tony Blair for the leadership. “We’ve been betrayed,” Brown tells one ally. “I love you, but I can destroy you,” Mandelson warns Brown.

1995 Blair’s attempts at détente fail when he confronts Brown. “Peter? He’s been going around telling everyone that I’m gay. And I’m not gay,” Brown fumes.

1996 Displaying his often unacknowledged sense of humour, Brown acidly remarks to a Tribune rally: “Peter asked me for 10p to phone a friend the other day. I said: ‘Here, take 20p and ring them all.’ When people ask me if I have a close relationship with Mandelson, I answer: ‘How would I know? I haven’t spoken to him for 18 months.’”

1998 Mandelson is forced to resign from the cabinet for the first time after the Guardian reports that he received a secret loan of £373,000 from his ministerial colleague Geoffrey Robinson. Mandelson blames Brown’s pugnacious spin doctor Charlie Whelan for the leak.

2001 Accused of unreasonably aiding the Hinduja brothers in their quest for British citizenship, Mandelson resigns as Northern Ireland secretary and loses his status as joint election co-ordinator with Brown. Mandelson is subsequently exonerated by the Hammond inquiry.

2007 Asked whether he fears being replaced as the UK’s European commissioner when Brown becomes prime minister, Mandelson replies: “I don’t know whether this is going to come as a disappointment to him, but he can’t actually fire me. So like it or not, I’m afraid he will have to accept me as commissioner until November 2009.”

2008 On 3 October, Mandelson makes an extraordinary return to the cabinet as business secretary. Ten days later he becomes Baron Mandelson of Foy and takes his seat in the House of Lords.

2008 Mandelson is said to have “dripped pure poison” about Gordon Brown to George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, just weeks before his return to government. Mandelson denounces the leaking of the conversation as “straight out of a dirty-tricks department”.

2009 Brown hands Mandelson overall control of a new superdepartment, with a portfolio including business regulation, universities and space travel. Awarded the Soviet-style title of First Secretary of State, Mandelson cements his position as de facto deputy prime minister.

George Eaton

More remarkably still, at the time of his first resignation eight years earlier, Mandelson, fighting in vain for his political life after being exposed by some of Brown’s closest henchmen, turned to the then chancellor himself for counsel. He discovered that Brown was horrified that the saga was leading to Mandelson’s inevitable departure from government.

In Mandelson’s second resignation, Brown played no part. Indeed, Mandelson had more cause to blame Blair than Brown. What the resignation did, however, was expose the falsity of the frequent claim that Brown’s problem had been with Mandelson and not with Blair. Mandelson’s removal did nothing to reduce the relentless pressure Brown applied on Blair, which, together with the legacy of the Iraq War, culminated in Blair’s departure in 2007.

Nevertheless, the split between Mandelson and Brown was deeply personal and precisely fratricidal. Brown’s lieutenants blamed Mandelson for creating the conditions in which Blair emerged in the polls as the clear front-runner for the Labour leadership in 1994. In fact, he had no such magical powers, as Brown himself may deep down have realised. Which is why Mandelson judged the break came several months later in an argument over party appointments. The issue over which Mandelson sided with Blair against Brown was relatively trivial, but showed the depth of Mandelson’s new fealty to Blair.

All this, especially the intensity of feeling between Brown and Mandelson, calls into question the conventional wisdom that Mandelson may ultimately move against Brown in October, as he did not move against him a fortnight ago. In Mandelson’s case, predictions are a fool’s game, and it could yet happen. Certainly he has not been in the habit of ending up on the losing side in the past, including in 1994, or when, after a brief hesitation, he decided not to join the SDP after its formation in 1981.

The idea of being “the last man standing” in the cabinet, as a deeply uneasy Ken Baker was at the time of Margaret Thatcher’s fall in 1990, is hardly appealing. But most of those close to Mandelson – including those who might ideally prefer it otherwise – appear to think it likelier that he intends to stick with Brown to the end, and to use, on the Prime Minister’s behalf, all the political skills he has to keep him in place.

There are several political reasons for this. The unrest in the parliamentary party is dire, though perhaps not much more dire than it was for Blair in the wake of the Iraq War. But there is no clear, obvious successor to the Prime Minister, or at least no clear agreement, not even among the “Blairites” (to the extent that such a term has meaning now that Mandelson has thrown in his lot with the Prime Minister), about the ideal successor. If Brown disappeared, Mandelson would probably prefer David Miliband over Alan Johnson. But there is a lack of confidence – even among those, other than Mandelson, closest to Blair in the past – about whether either Miliband or Johnson would do better than Brown. At least the Prime Minister has the policies and track record needed at a time of profound economic crisis. And while Brown’s supporters may have wilfully exaggerated the inevitability of a leadership contest, it is by no means clear, given the febrile state of the party and the beginnings of the jockeying to determine a post-election scenario, that one could be avoided, possibly with disastrous results so close to a general election.

This is not to say that, if an irresistible revolt materialises, it would not fall to Mandelson, as it did in 1994, to tell Brown how conditions were. Or, if Brown decided to go, to ensure that he withdrew with honour. But it looks much less likely than assumed that Mandelson would be prepared to wield the knife. And the personal reasons for this are at least as potent as the political ones: a commitment not to desert Brown twice and, at least as important, the resulting damage to his reputation if he did.

The former Labour foreign secretary and SDP founder Lord Owen is said to have reinforced this point in a recent conversation with Man­delson, as have others. Of all the twists in this melodrama of internecine strife that has so hobbled the Labour government over more than a decade, the strangest of all would be if it fell to Peter Mandelson to disprove Lloyd George’s maxim that there is no friendship at the top.

Donald Macintyre is the author of “Mandelson and the Making of New Labour” (HarperCollins)

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Iran

NEAL FOX FOR NEW STATESMAN
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They know where you live

Imagine your house being raided by armed police. That’s what happened to Mumsnet’s Justine Roberts after she fell victim to an internet hoaxer.

At around midnight on Tuesday 11 August 2015, a man dialled 999 to report a murder. A woman had been killed in her London home, he said, before hanging up without offering his name. A second call followed. This time, the man claimed to be the killer. He told the operator that he had now taken the woman’s children hostage at the Islington address. They were locked with him inside a room in the house, he said. The police responded with reassuring speed. Fifteen minutes later, eight officers, five of them armed with automatic weapons, accompanied by saliva-flecked dogs, arrived at the scene and took up position in neighbouring front gardens. When one officer banged on the front door of the house, the team was greeted, moments later, not by a masked murderer but by a blinking and bewildered au pair.

Justine Roberts, the woman whom the caller claimed to have killed, was in fact nearly 2,000 kilometres away – in Italy, holidaying with her husband and children. After explaining this to the police, the au pair called Roberts, who assumed that the incident was an unfortunate misunderstanding, one that could be unpicked after the vacation. It was no mistake. Roberts had been the victim of “swatting”, the term given to a false emergency call designed to bait an armed unit of police officers to storm someone’s home. It wasn’t until a few days later, as the family was preparing to return to London, that Roberts discovered that she had been the target of a planned and sustained attack, not only on her household, but also on her business.

Roberts is the founder of Mumsnet, the popular British internet discussion forum on which parents share advice and information. A few days before the swatting incident, members of 8chan, a chat room that prides itself on being an open, anonymous platform for free speech, no matter how distasteful, had registered accounts on Mums­net with the aim of trolling people there. When legitimate Mumsnet users identified and then ridiculed the trolls, some retreated to 8chan to plot more serious vengeance in a thread that the police later discovered. Roberts wasn’t involved in the online skirmish but, as the public face of the site, she was chosen as the first target.

After the initial armed response, Roberts’s perception was that the police were unconcerned about the swatting attack. “We were told that there was no victim, so there was not much that could be done,” she told me. The hoax caller, however, was not finished. In the days after the incident, there was chatter on Mumsnet and Twitter about what had happened. A Mumsnet user whom I will call Jo Scott – she requested anonymity for her own safety – exchanged heated messages with a hacker who claimed responsibility for the 999 call.

“It descended into jokes and silliness, like many things do,” Scott said. “I didn’t take it seriously when the hacker said he had big surprises in store.” She doesn’t believe that what happened next was personal. “I think I was just easy to find.”

A few days after police were called to Roberts’s home, Scott was in her bedroom while her husband was sitting downstairs playing video games. At 11pm, she heard a noise outside. “I looked out of the window and saw blue flashing lights in the street,” she recalled. “I could hear shouting but I didn’t pay it much notice.” Then she heard her husband open the front door. Police rushed into the house. An armed officer shouted upstairs, asking Scott if she was hurt. When she replied that she was fine, he told her to fetch her two young children: he needed to see them. Scott shook her sons awake, explaining, so as not to alarm them, that the police had come to show the boys their cars. As the three of them went downstairs, the officers swept up through the house, repeatedly asking if there were any weapons on the property.

“I was beyond confused by this point,” Scott said. “Everyone was carrying a gun. They had little cutaway bits so you could see the bullets. My eldest asked one of the officers if he could have a go on his gun and went to touch it.”

As Scott sat with an officer downstairs, she asked what had happened to her husband. “I later found out that the noises I’d heard were the police calling for him to come outside,” she said. “He dropped the PlayStation controller as he left the room. It was only later that we realised it’s a good job he did: in the dark, the controller might have looked like a weapon.”

Outside, Scott’s husband had been surrounded and arrested. Other police ­officers were on the lookout in the front gardens of nearby properties, having warned the couple’s neighbours to stay indoors, away from their windows. “One of the officers said it was beginning to look like a hoax,” Scott said. “Then he mentioned swatting. As soon as he said that word, I twigged that I’d seen the term that day on Twitter in relation to the Mumsnet hack.”

***

The term “swatting” has been used by the FBI since 2008. “Swat” is an acronym of “Special Weapons and Tactics”, the American police squads routinely called to intervene in hostage situations. It is, in a sense, a weaponised version of a phoney order of pizza, delivered as a prank to a friend’s home, albeit one that carries the possibility of grave injury at the hands of police. For perpetrators, the appeal is the ease with which the hoax can be set in motion and the severity of the results. With a single, possibly untraceable phone call, dialled from anywhere in the world, it is possible to send an armed unit to any address, be it the home of a high-profile actor whom you want to prank or that of someone you want to scare.

In America, where swatting originated, the practice has become so widespread – targets have included Tom Cruise, Taylor Swift, Clint Eastwood and the Californian congressman Ted Lieu – that it is now classed as an act of domestic terrorism. In the UK, where Justine Roberts’s was one of the first recorded cases, swatting is classed as harassment, though that may change if these and other forms of internet vigilante attacks, such as doxxing, become increasingly commonplace.

Doxxing involves the publication of someone’s personal details – usually their home address, phone numbers, bank details and, in some cases, email address – on the internet. It is often the prelude to swatting: after all, the perpetrator of a hoax cannot direct the police to the target’s home address until this is known. (During the week of the Mumsnet attacks, one of the perpetrators attempted to locate another target using their computer’s IP address, which can identify where a person is connected to the internet, often with alarming precision. Their calculation, however, was slightly out; police were called to a neighbour’s address.)

Though doxxing has a less dramatic outcome than swatting, the psychological effects can be just as severe. For victims – usually people who are active on the internet and who have outspoken opinions or who, in the eyes of an internet mob, have committed some kind of transgression – the mere threat of having their personal information made available on the web can cause lasting trauma. A Canadian software developer whose home address, bank details, social security number and email history were published online in 2014 told me that he now keeps an axe by his front door. “I still don’t feel safe here,” he said. “It’s terrifying.”

Christos Reid, a social media manager for a software company, was doxxed last year. Reid’s information came from a website he had registered seven years earlier. “I woke up one morning to find a tweet announcing my personal details,” he told me. When he asked the Twitter account holder to take down the address, he was told to commit suicide. Reid said he was “OK for about half an hour”; but then, after he went out, he broke down in the street. “I’ve become more paranoid,” he said. He no longer gives out business cards with personal information.

Reid lives in London, but at the time of the doxx he was attending an event in Nottingham, home to the British police’s largest cybercrime division. He was impressed with the police response, even though they told him that they had not heard of the term “doxxing” before. “I was interviewed by two separate people about my experiences who then compiled everything into a case file and transferred it to the Met. When I arrived home, an officer visited me to discuss what happened and my options.”

The policeman explained harassment law to Reid, and offered advice on how to improve security at his flat and what to do if someone hostile turned up at the address. Reid shouldered the repercussions of what had happened alone; no suspects were identified. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police similarly said that although detectives from Islington CID have investigated the swatting attacks made on Roberts and Scott, no suspects have been identified “at this time”, even as “inquiries continue”.

Doxxing may seem to be a mild form of harassment but it carries with it an implicit threat of impending violence; the worrying message is: “We know where you live.” Unlike swatting, which is always malicious, doxxing is sometimes viewed by its perpetrators as virtuous. In November 2014, hackers claiming to be aligned with the internet group Anonymous published personal information allegedly belonging to a Ku Klux Klan member from Missouri. The hackers said that their action was a response to the KKK’s threat to use lethal force against demonstrators in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, protesting against the killing of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer. In January 2015 hackers claiming to be from Isis took over US Central Command’s Twitter account and posted information about senior military officers, including phone numbers and email addresses. In each case, those carrying out the doxxing believed, however mistakenly, in the virtue of their actions and hoped that the information could be used to bring punishment or ruin to the subject.

The term “doxxing” may be new but the practice is an old one. The Hollywood blacklist revealed the political beliefs and associations of actors and directors in the late 1940s as a way to invite shame, deny employment and dissuade others from following their example. “But it has become a lot easier to find people’s private details with the help of the internet,” Jeroen Vader told me. Vader owns Pastebin, a website that allows users to upload and distribute text documents, and where much of the personal data is anonymously uploaded and shared. “People post their private information on social networks,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t aware that their information is so easily available to others.”

In Justine Roberts’s case, the perpetrator may not even have needed to look at social networks to mine her personal information. “If you’re on the electoral roll, you’re easy to find,” she said. “There’s not much you can do to stop people getting hold of your data one way or another, whether it’s for nefarious reasons or simply to better advertise to you. We live in a world that is constantly trying to gather more information about us.”

Jeroen Vader said he has noticed an “upward trend” in the number of doxxing posts uploaded to Pastebin in recent months, but insisted that when someone uses the site’s abuse report system these offending posts are removed immediately.

Across social media companies, action is more often reactive than proactive. Victoria Taylor, a former director at Reddit, one of the largest community-driven websites in the world, said that the rule against publishing other users’ personal information has been “consistently one of the site’s most basic policies” and that “any violation of this rule is taken extremely seriously by the team and community”. Still, she was only able to recommend that victims of doxxing send a message to the site’s administrators. Similarly, when asked what a person can do to remove personal details that have been published without permission, a Twitter spokesperson said: “Use our help form.”

The spokesperson added: “There has def­initely been an overall increase in doxxing since 2006, both on Twitter and on the internet more generally.” She attributed this rise to the emergence of search engines such as Intelius and Spokeo, services designed to locate personal information.

***

The surge in the number of dox­xing and swatting attacks is in part a result of the current lack of legal protection for victims. Confusion regarding the law on doxxing is pervasive; the term is even not mentioned in either US or European law. In a tutorial posted on Facebook in 2013, the writer claims: “Doxxing isn’t illegal as all the information you have obtained is public,” and adds: “But posting of the doxx might get you in a little trouble.”

Phil Lee, a partner in the privacy, security and information department of Fieldfisher based at the law firm’s office in Silicon Valley, said that differing privacy laws around the world were part of the problem. “Various countries have laws that cover illegal or unauthorised obtaining of data. Likewise, some of the consequences of releasing that data, such as defamation or stalking, cover elements of what we now term doxxing. But there is no global law covering what is a global phenomenon.” Indeed, Roberts believes that her London address was targeted from America – the 999 call was routed through a US proxy number.

One challenge to creating a law on doxxing is that the sharing of personal information without permission has already become so widespread in the digital age. “If a law was to state something like, ‘You must not post personal information about another person online without their consent,’ it wouldn’t reflect how people use the internet,” Lee said. “People post information about what their friends and family members have been doing all the time without their consent.

“Such a law could have a potentially detrimental effect on freedom of speech.”

Lee believes that a specific law is unnecessary, because its potentially harmful effects are already covered by three discrete pieces of legislation dealing with instances where a person’s private information is obtained illegally, when that information is used to carry out illegal acts and when the publication of the information is accompanied by a threat to incite hatred. However, this does not adequately account for cases in which the information is obtained legally, and then used to harass the individual in a more legally ambiguous manner, either with prank phone calls or with uninvited orders of pizza.

Susan Basko, an independent lawyer who practises in California and who has been doxxed in the course of her frequent clashes with internet trolls, believes that the onus should be on the law, rather than the public. She points out that in the US it is a crime to publicise information about a government employee such as their home address, their home and cellphone numbers, or their social security number, even if the information is already online. “This law should apply to protect all people, not just federal employees,” she said. “And websites, website-hosting companies and other ISPs should be required to uphold this law.”

Basko said that doxxing will continue to increase while police have inadequate resources to follow up cases. For now, it is up to individuals to take preventative measures. Zoë Quinn, an American game designer and public speaker who was doxxed in 2014, has launched Crash Override, a support network and assistance group for targets of online harassment, “composed entirely of experienced survivors”.

Quinn, who spoke about the problem at a congressional hearing in Washington, DC in April last year, recently posted a guide on how to reduce the likelihood of being doxxed. “If you are worried you might some day be targeted,” she wrote, “consider taking an evening to stalk yourself online, deleting and opting out of anything you’re not comfortable with.”

Both Scott and Roberts have changed their privacy habits following the attacks. Scott is more careful about interacting with strangers online, while Roberts uses scrambler software, which ensures that she never uses the same password for more than one online site or service.

For both women’s families, the effects of their encounters with armed police have also lingered. When one day recently Roberts’s husband returned home early from work, the au pair called the police, believing it was an intruder. And Scott is haunted by what happened.

“What if my husband had made a sudden move or resisted in some way? What if my eldest had grabbed the gun instead of gently reaching for it? What if people locally believed that my husband did actually have guns in the house?” she asks. “I don’t think the people making these sorts of hoax calls realise the impact.” 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism