Dutch nationals can today vote in what is likely to be the last referendum for some time – whether or not to give far-reaching powers to the two security services to gather information, particularly via phone and internet taps.
The law is due to come into effect in May and has already been passed by both houses of parliament. Nevertheless, over 400,000 people signed a petition calling for a referendum, hence today’s vote.
The referendum is advisory and comes a month after the government agreed to abolish the principle of advisory referendums altogether. However, home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren has already promised to ‘take the result seriously’.
An opinion poll published by current affairs show EenVandaag on Tuesday suggests that a majority of voters are likely to vote in favour of the legislation. Some 53% of people who said they are likely to vote, now plan to vote yes.
But the result is divided sharply along age lines, with 60% of people over the age of 55 planning to vote in favour, compared with 41% of the under-35s.
Most of the Dutch papers have now published lengthy articles examining the pros and cons of the new legislation.
Wednesday’s referendum was initiated by five students from Amsterdam, whose four main issues with the new law are examined by Trouw.
The students say the law will allow the state to listen in on entire neighbourhoods, hence the name ‘dragnet law’. But, says Trouw, the law only allows the ‘tapping, taping and listening in’ of people who are a danger to national security and the home affairs minister will have to approve the taps.
Data belonging to anyone caught up inadvertently must be removed as quickly as possible, Trouw says, adding that the home affairs minister considers the law contains enough guarantees to prevent indiscriminate tapping.
The students are also worried about the power of the intelligence services to hack any device people may have in their homes, including smart fridges, watches or cars. This will be allowed under the new law, Trouw says, adding the secret services can even hack the devices via another person’s computer. But again, the services need permission from the minister.
Another worry the students have is that the legislation will allow the secret services to set up their own DNA bank and their powers to compare any DNA found at ‘locations of interest’ with samples in their own DNA bank.
DNA profiles will be kept for five years, which can be stretched to 30 with the permission of the minister. Ministers do concede that DNA from people who are no threat to national security might end up in this database and have said ‘a note must be made of this’, Trouw said.
The final problem the students have with the law is that raw data, gleaned from a wide variety of data bases can be shared with foreign intelligence services. Again Trouw points out that sharing data is subject to a number of checks and balances, such as the protection of human rights and the protection of the data itself. Again, the minister must give permission.
Nevertheless, critics point out, this does mean that data could end up in unfriendly foreign hands via third parties,
The Parool also looked at these issues but can only reiterate that while the new law can pose a threat to people’s privacy there are, on paper, a number of guarantees that will prevent this from happening.
The Volkskrant interviewed cyber expert Huib Modderkolk. According to Modderkolk the increased powers of the intelligence services are not going to lead to a police state.
‘The most serious breach of privacy citizens have to contend is the continual scanning of car registration plates,’ he said. ‘Google keeps a track of your whereabouts, Albert Heijn knows which products we buy and the tax office links all sorts of databases,’ he told the paper.
Modderkolk does not believe the large-scale tapping will be a problem but thinks hacking of specific targets will become more frequent.
The cyber expert also doubts that ‘great haystacks of information’ will help defeat terrorism.
‘French intelligence services have the most far-reaching powers in Europe and yet most attacks happened on French soil,’ he said. ‘Digital information on its own will not prevent attacks. But if terrorists are using coded apps… it would limit the work of the intelligence services if they are not allowed to look at that,’ the paper quotes him as saying.
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