Last March, historian Nadia Bouras of Leiden University went to the police after she found a sticker of the radical right platform VizierOpLinks on her front door. Her house was being “observed” by their followers.
The academic community was outraged. Ineke Sluiter, president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), called it “unacceptable”; a sentiment echoed by Pieter Duisenberg, chair of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). Bouras is not the only academic whose private personal information has been made public. It also happened to the head of the RIVM, Jaap van Dissel, for example. The VSNU has been working on guidance for academics who are threatened or intimidated in this way.
A number of political parties have already posed questions about VizierOpLinks. This was again the topic of discussion on Tuesday when, during a plenary debate, SP MP Renske Leijten asked for the government’s opinion on the actions of these kind of “intimidation platforms”. Her words were seconded by GroenLinks. “Putting up stickers may seem quite innocent to us”, MP Lisa Westerveld said, “but it also means that people know where you live.”
Outgoing Minister of Social Affairs Koolmees called the actions, in his own words, “intimidating and offensive”. He said the Public Prosecutor’s Office was investigating whether such acts are punishable by law and whether the perpetrators could be charged.
On Thursday, VVD MP Ingrid Michon-Derkzen went a step further. She tabled an amendment calling for publication of private personal details for the purpose of intimidation to be made a punishable offence. In addition to academics, this kind of action — also called “doxing” — is increasingly targeting journalists, police officers, healthcare workers and politicians, Michon-Derkzen asserted.
Doxing is becoming more common online, she said, for example when someone’s home address is posted on social media by malicious opponents. As far as the VVD is concerned, fishing for this kind of information online should also be made illegal, for example by Tweeting, “Do we know where this person lives?” The same holds for soliciting information about where someone’s child goes to school or his or her partner’s place of work.
Minister of Justice Grapperhaus emphasised that he thinks doxing should “really be punishable”. But care is needed when making amendments to the law, he cautioned. That this reason prompted him to advise against the amendment caused him “a great deal of difficulty”.
Nonetheless, Grapperhaus promised to return with concrete draft legislation before the summer recess 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 quickly.”
Michon-Derkzen exchanged her amendment for a motion asking the government to table its promised draft legislation quickly. That motion was submitted by D66, CDA, SP, ChristenUnie, PvdA and SGP; there’s no doubt it will be adopted on Tuesday.