Parliament: use of personal data for intimidation should be punishable by law

The outgoing Minister of Justice, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, finds doxing "disgusting". Photo: Arenda Oomen

In March, Nadia Bouras, from Leiden University, went to the police after she found a sticker of far-right group VizierOpLinks on her front door. Her house was being “watched” by members of the group.

The academic community was outraged. Ineke Sluiter, president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW in the Dutch acronym), called the event “unacceptable”, a sentiment echoed by Pieter Duisenberg, chair of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU).

Bouras is not the only Dutch academic whose personal information has been made public. The head of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, also received threats after his home address was shared on messaging app Telegram. VSNU is currently working on a manual to advise academics who are threatened or intimidated in this way.

Several political parties have voiced their concerns about VizierOpLinks in the past few months. The group was the topic of discussion of a plenary debate last week, when Socialist Party MP Renske Leijten asked for the government’s opinion on such “intimidation platforms”. Her words were seconded by GroenLinks (Green Party). “Putting up stickers may seem quite innocent”, said MP Lisa Westerveld, “but it also means that people know where you live.”

Outgoing Minister of Social Affairs, Wouter Koolmees, called the actions “intimidating and offensive”. He added that the Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating whether such acts are punishable by law and the perpetrators could be charged.

Last Thursday, May 27, VVD MP Ingrid Michon-Derkzen went a step further. She tabled an amendment calling for the publication of private details for the purpose of intimidation to be made a punishable offence. Michon-Derkzen asserted that, in addition to academics, this kind of action (also called “doxing”) has been increasingly used to target journalists, police officers, healthcare workers, and politicians.

As far as the VVD is concerned, the very act of fishing for this kind of information online should be made illegal. Therefore, a tweet saying “does anybody know where this person lives?” would be punishable by law, as would the act of soliciting information about where someone’s child goes to school or where their partner works, to name but two examples.

Minister Grapperhaus emphasised that he thinks doxing should “really be punishable”. However, he cautioned one must be careful when making amendments to the law. He promised to return before the summer recess with new draft legislation that “with some legal fine-tuning, would cover in broad outline” the amendment submitted by the VVD. He called doxing a “disgusting phenomenon”, and thus proposed that “we have to get down to work fast.”