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Australia to ban doxxing after WhatsApp group chat leaked

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The Australian government announced Tuesday it would ban doxxing — the malicious distribution of personal or identifying information online without the person’s permission — after pro-Palestinian activists posted the personal information of hundreds of Jews in Australia.

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said the proposed laws, which have not yet been drafted, would involve sending takedown notices to social media platforms and imposing fines for the intimidation tactic.

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

Pro-Palestinian activists have distributed a nearly 900-page transcript from a private WhatsApp created last year by Jewish writers, artists, musicians and academics, Nine newspapers reported last week. The transcript was accompanied by a spreadsheet containing the names and other personal information of nearly 600 people allegedly members of the group.

Author Clementine Ford, who was one of several activists who posted links to the leaked information, said it should not be considered doxxing.

“This conversation demonstrates highly organized measures to punish Palestinian activists and their allies,” Ford posted on Instagram.

Dreyfus said the new laws would strengthen Australia’s protections against hate speech, but provided few details on how they would work.

“The growing use of online platforms to harm people through practices such as doxxing, the malicious disclosure of their personal information without their permission, is a deeply worrying development,” Dreyfus, who is Jewish, told the journalists.

“The recent targeting of members of the Australian Jewish community through practices such as doxxing is shocking but, unfortunately, this is far from an isolated incident,” Dreyfus added.

There has been an increase in reports of anti-Semitism in Australia since Israel’s war against Hamas began in October.

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

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

“We live in a vibrant multicultural community that we must strive to protect,” Dreyfus said.

The government’s plan to ban doxxing has been 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 scale of the harm caused is understood and that the new laws effectively protect Australians from this shameful and dangerous practice,” council chair Daniel Aghion said.

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

“It’s really difficult for police departments to enforce such laws when in reality they simply don’t have access to the data. In reality, the responsibility lies with the social media companies,” Phair told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“Our law enforcement, dare I say, is already overwhelmed with online investigations given the number of crimes we have online. Adding that without additional resources and really integrated work with social media platforms, it just won’t do much,” Phair added.

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