Sunday 16 May 2021

Calls for Chamber of Commerce to stop publishing freelancers’ details

Would employees here like their addresses made public? Photo: KvK

A group representing journalists, writers, film makers and artists has urged the Dutch government to implement a decision to stop the private details of freelancers from being publicly available.

Writing in the NRC, the group including the heads of journalist union the NVJ and the Democracy & Media Foundation, say that there is increasing evidence that scientists, politicians, artists and opinion makers are being threatened because their private details are still open.

Recently, the young writer Lale Gül’s home was broken into, for instance, after she received death threats for her book criticising strict Turkish and Islamic traditions she experienced growing up in Amsterdam West. A study in De Groene Amsterdammer suggested that women and people of colour are disproportionately targeted by threatening behaviour.

‘Publishing the details of addresses, found on the KVK [Netherlands Chamber of Commerce] website, and visits to the homes of politicians, journalists and columnists has become a standard part of intimidation campaigns,’ according to the letter. ‘Time and time again, the KVK register is the source of all of these woes.’

The writers point out that freelancers are obliged to register an address with the Chamber of Commerce, which is made publicly available. Unless they hire a permanent office space ‘which for many freelancers is unnecessary and unaffordable’, they are forced to use their home address. Anyone selling through a website has to make this official address ‘easy to find’, alongside a telephone number and VAT tax number.

‘It is unacceptable that the personal safety of opinion makers, artists, politicians and journalists and their families is short-changed because of the way a bureaucratic institution works,’ says the letter, suggesting the situation breaches privacy law.

Earlier this year, the government voted to make changes to ensure private details were only made available on an ‘opt-in’ basis but this has not yet been put into effect. In previous years, it emerged that the Chamber of Commerce was even selling freelancers’ telephone numbers on a massive scale, leading to an infringement of privacy and countless nuisance sales calls.

In a reaction online, the Dutch Chamber of Commerce said that it was currently obliged to make business details open. ‘This transparency contributes to a certainty that things are legal in economic transactions: entrepreneurs can see who they are doing business with, and this is important for a well-functioning, open economy,’ it said.

Mona Keijzer, junior economic affairs minister, said in a statement that the register of traders needs to satisfy the requirements of consumers and banks, but that there would be an open consultation and possible amendments to the trade registry act. ‘It is about the tension between privacy but also legal surety and fraud prevention, and unfortunately there is no easy solution,’ she said. ‘With the KvK, we are continuing to seek the right balance.’

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