By -

The Federal Government is pushing for legislation to criminalise the publication online of personal information, in an attempt to combat cyberbullying and harassment.

Preparation for the proposal to criminalise the practice of ‘doxxing’ in Australia follows the leak of personal information of more than 600 participants in a group chat.

“The increasing use of online platforms to harm people through practices like doxxing is a deeply disturbing development,” Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement on 13 February.

“The Prime Minister has asked me to bring forward, as part of that set of reforms to the Privacy Act, some new provisions to deal with this practice of doxxing, with the malicious use of people’s personal information without their consent.”

Doxxing is the act of distributing the personal information of another person, including their full name, contact details or address, on the internet without their express consent. An extreme form of cyberbullying, the use of doxxing gained popularity on websites like 4chan and Tumblr by targeting and harassing those who disagreed with the atttitudes of those communities. Since then, it has spread to other corners of the internet, including Facebook and WhatsApp groups. In one of the most infamous and extreme cases, several women in the gaming industry were victims of death and sexual assault threats for criticising the industry’s issues with sexism.

Several countries around the world have implemented measures against doxxing. Singapore and South Korea were the first countries to criminalise the practice, and the Netherlands passed a law in 2023 that punishes the online publication of a person’s address or personal information with the goal of intimidation.

In Australia, LGBTQIA+ and anti-racism organisations have been addressing the issue and pushing for comprehensive legislation. Back in 2019, far-right activist Avi Yemeni posted on social media the personal phone number of journalist Osman Faruqi, leading to the Pakistani-born Australian receiving thousands of racist and abusive text messages, calls, and voicemails. 

In January, a pro-Israel Facebook group shared the address of a Sydney man who raised a Palestinian flag outside his home, leading to a fake explosive device with a threatening message being left close to his property. 

The urgency for new legislation came after the names of 600 Jewish writers and artists were published and spread across social media, with accusations the chat community was coordinating attempts to silence pro-Palestinian voices in the media.

“Now, these are people who have a range of views about the Middle East. What they have in common, though, is the fact that they’re members of the Jewish community”, Prime Minister Albanese said during an interview on Sydney’s 2GB.

“The idea that in Australia, someone should be targeted because of their religion, because of their faith, whether they be Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Catholic or Buddhist, is just completely unacceptable.”

Dreyfus added during his press conference this week that “we see that with massive changes in digital technology that is throughout our society, that the opportunities for invasions of privacy, the opportunities for the use of people’s personal information without consent, the opportunities for really malicious actions to take place, affecting hundreds of thousands of people very, very quickly, has been made possible.”

“Legislation has struggled to keep up. That’s part of the reason behind this reform of the Privacy Act that we’ve embarked on. Clearly, all of those things are needing to be looked at.”