Use of personal data for the objective of harassment to become criminal offence

Sharing another individual's personal data with the intention of harassment will become a criminal offence. Today, the Senate passed the bill to criminalise the use of personal data for harassment purposes - also known as doxing. This legislation is expected to come into force on 1 January 2024.

The phenomenon of doxing is not uncommon. Personal data, such as addresses and phone numbers, as well as private information about family members, is circulated in app groups so that this information can be used to instil fear in others. This has a significant impact on the people who are harassed in this way. They fear for their safety and that of their loved ones. They can no longer express their opinions without concern. Or they are no longer able to perform their professional duties. This affects our fundamental freedoms, and the functioning of our democratic rule of law.

It is often aid workers, police officers, journalists and politicians who become victims of doxing. But scientists, opinion makers or municipal employees are also confronted with people distributing or forwarding their personal data with the objective of harassment. Earlier, the House of Representatives and employers such as the police also expressed concern about their employees and called for a criminal justice approach to this problem. Doxing is not limited to certain professions; people can face this for a range of reasons. These include a person posting a photo and phone number of an ex-partner on a dubious online forum to instil fear in them.

Justice and Security Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius: "Keep your hands off our social workers, police officers and others who dedicate themselves in any way to our free society! Spreading private data to instil fear in another person is absolutely unacceptable. Journalists, scientists and politicians must always be able to speak freely. We cannot and must not accept that families no longer feel safe at home. I am therefore pleased that the Senate also agrees with this bill and that we are jointly drawing a line: anyone can become a victim of doxing and we must be able to protect them against it."

Much harassment behaviour is already punishable. Think of threats and stalking. However, harassment through the use of personal data is often not criminally actionable in practice. For example, because there is no threat of a serious crime or a systematic invasion of the individual's privacy. Obtaining, distributing or otherwise making available identifying personal data of another person or a third party with the aim of instilling fear in that other person, causing severe disturbances to that other person or seriously hindering that person in the performance of his or her duties or profession will be punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of two years or a fine of up to EUR 22,500. The maximum jail term will be increased by one-third in the event of doxing against persons with a specific profession, such as mayors, politicians, judges, lawyers, journalists and police officers.

With the new law, police and prosecutors will have broader possibilities to act against doxing. In addition, the victim can also initiate their own civil proceedings if it is known who posted the offending content online. Compensation and the online removal of the offending content can then be demanded. If the offender is not known, the intermediary hosting the content can always be notified. Intermediaries such as internet providers and online platforms have a role to act if they are aware that their platforms or servers are hosting infringing or unlawful content.