Criminal prosecution of harassment through the sharing of personal data

Sharing personal information for the purpose of harassing someone needs to be made prosecutable under criminal law. Doxing, which includes distributing identifying personal data to frighten someone, has increased substantially in part due to the emergence of the internet and social media. As a result, the Minister of Justice and Security, Ferdinand Grapperhaus, has submitted a legislative proposal today to enable the prosecution of perpetrators of this form of harassment under criminal law.

The distribution and forwarding of personal data with the aim of scaring someone, seriously inconveniencing them or hindering them in the course of their profession is increasingly affecting aid workers, opinion makers, scientists, journalists and politicians. This involves not just well-known individuals: everyday citizens, police officers and municipal employees who have a lot of direct contact with the public in their daily work are also included among the victims. The Dutch House of Representatives and the police have also expressed their concerns about this and called for the criminal prosecution of doxing.

‘The ease with which some people think they can harass others by distributing their personal information is beyond heinous. It crosses the line of what is permissible when people have difficulty leading their lives, our police officers are hindered in the performance of their duties and scientists can no longer speak freely. In many cases, entire families no longer feel safe in their own homes, and people are afraid to openly speak their minds in public and act their normal selves. Their colleagues are also affected. This really goes too far and we must lay this down more clearly in law.’

said Minister Grapperhaus.

Many forms of intimidating behaviour, such as threats and stalking, are already punishable. However, in practice, it often not possible to prosecute for doxing. This is the case, for example, because no threat has been made of a serious offence or the victim’s privacy has not been systematically invaded. The legislative proposal to be submitted for consultation by Minister Grapperhaus lowers the bar for criminal liability.

A maximum prison sentence of one year will be imposed for the provision, dissemination or otherwise making available of identifying personal data of another person or a third party with the intention of scaring or seriously inconveniencing them, seriously hindering them in the performance of their duties or in the course of their profession or assisting someone else is causing such harm. Journalists and whistleblowers, who disclose news items and wrongdoing, are not punishable if the disclosure is necessary for the general good, since it of course is not their intention to harass anyone.

Minister Grapperhaus’ legislative proposal is not only expected to provide the police and the Public Prosecution Service with a firmer basis for taking action against doxing. It also makes it easier for people themselves to request the removal of illegal content by internet service providers or online platforms. The new criminal law standard can also help victims in civil proceedings in which compensation for or the removal of the unlawful content is demanded.