Australia to ban doxxing after pro-Palestinian activists target hundreds of Jews

Details of some 600 people on a private WhatsApp group were leaked online; Jewish community leadership welcomes move as protection against ‘shameful and dangerous practice’

Members of the Melbourne Jewish community rally in support of the Israelis taken hostage by Hamas, Melbourne, October 15, 2023 (Courtesy Nirit Eylon)
Members of the Melbourne Jewish community rally in support of the Israelis taken hostage by Hamas, Melbourne, October 15, 2023 (Courtesy Nirit Eylon)

The Australian government said on Tuesday it will outlaw doxxing — the malicious release online of personal or identifying information without the subject’s permission — after pro-Palestinian activists published personal details of hundreds of Jewish people in Australia.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the proposed laws, which have yet to be drafted, would involve issuing take-down notices to social media platforms and imposing fines for the intimidation tactic.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had asked for legislation to be brought forward as part of a broader reform of privacy laws.

“The idea that in Australia someone should be targeted because of their religion… it’s just completely unacceptable,” he said.

The government was responding to Nine Entertainment news reports last week that pro-Palestinian activists had published the names, images, professions, and social media accounts of Jewish people working in academia and the creative industries.

Pro-Palestinian activists distributed a nearly 900-page transcript that leaked from a private WhatsApp formed last year by Jewish writers, artists, musicians, and academics, Nine newspapers reported last week. The transcript was accompanied by a spreadsheet that contained the names and other personal details of almost 600 people, purportedly the group’s membership.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese holds a press conference at the Commonwealth Parliament Offices in Sydney, Australia, December 20, 2023. (Mark Baker/AP)

Author Clementine Ford, who was one of several activists who posted links to the leaked information, said that it shouldn’t be considered doxxing.

“This chat demonstrated extremely organized moves to punish Palestinian activists and their allies,” Ford posted on Instagram.

However, some of those whose details were released have reported they suffered abuse online in the wake of the leak.

Dreyfus said the new laws would strengthen Australian protections against hate speech, but provided scant detail about how they would work.

“The increasing use of online platforms to harm people through practices like doxxing, the malicious release of their personal information without their permission, is a deeply disturbing development,” Dreyfus, who is Jewish, told reporters.

“The recent targeting of members of the Australian Jewish community through those practices like doxxing was shocking but, sadly, this is far from being an isolated incident,” Dreyfus added.

There has been an increase in reports of antisemitism in Australia since the Palestinian terror group Hamas’s devastating attack on Israel on October 7 and during the ensuing war.

The Australian government’s online safety watchdog defines doxxing, which is also known as “dropping dox” or documents, as the “intentional online exposure of an individual’s identity, private information or personal details without their consent.”

Asked for his definition, Dreyfus said doxxing was the “malicious release, publicly, of personal information of people without their consent.”

“We live in a vibrant multicultural community which we should strive to protect,” he said.

Then-Australian Labor Party member, Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus (C), is seen in the House of Representatives in Canberra, Australia on December 7, 2017. (SEAN DAVEY / AFP)

The government’s plan to outlaw doxxing was welcomed by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, which represents Australia’s Jewish community.

“We look forward to working with the government to ensure the full extent of the harm caused is understood and that the new laws effectively protect Australians from this shameful and dangerous practice,” council president Daniel Aghion said.

Monash University cybersecurity expert Nigel Phair applauded the idea of a law against doxxing, but questioned how it could be enforced.

“It’s really difficult for policing agencies to police such laws when, really, they just don’t get the access to the data. Really, it’s the social media companies who bear the responsibility,” Phair told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“Our law enforcement agencies, dare I say, are already swamped with online investigations with the amount of crime that we have online. Adding this to it without any additional resources and the really integrated work with the social media platforms — it just won’t do much,” he added.

Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission civil rights organization, said it has launched a campaign calling on the government to immediately introduce anti-doxxing laws.

“Governments do not need to wait for someone to be violently attacked, killed or driven to suicide because of this malevolent doxing to act,” Abramovich said in a statement Monday. “We know that people are often inspired to do crazy things when they are radicalized online, and this doxing is dangerous and will have real-world consequences.

“The deliberate online targeting and harassment of Australian Jews, akin to digital terrorism, has now reached fever pitch, and it’s clear that these anti-Israel radicals are determined to make our lives a living hell,” he said. “It’s imperative that governments step in and protect the victims who have already been subjected to death threats and hold the perpetrators accountable.”

Most Popular
read more: