Back-up failures led to emergency 112 phone line breakdown

A system breakdown was responsible for the problems with KPN phone networks on Monday and three back-up systems for the 112 emergency number all failed to work, justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus told MPs on Tuesday afternoon. The initial analyses show that something went wrong in the back-ups,’ Grapperhaus said. KPN is now trying to establish what happened and, the minister said, the results of that investigation will be double checked. The breakdown meant that the 112 emergency phone line was out of action for several hours and the emergency services resorted to using other numbers. MPs called on the minister to overhaul the emergency number system but Grapperhaus declined to comment on alternative plans, pending the outcome of the review.   More >

How safe is your smart house?

Delft University cybercrime experts have been drafted in to assess how consumer goods which are connected to the internet, such as smart doorbells or toys, can be best protected against hacking and viruses. ‘We expect 30 million pieces of apparatus to be connected to the internet by 2020,’ junior economic affairs minister Mona Keizers said. ‘Smart thermostats, fridges and tvs are all attractive to consumers and offer companies extra sources of income. But using them securely is not a given and could make people vulnerable and open to viruses or theft.’ The minister is funding the university to look into both new products and products which have already been hacked. The aim, she said, is to boost awareness and help manufacturers take steps to improve products which link to internet in a network known as the Internet of Things. One in five people told a ministry research project that they had no idea how to make sure items such as lamps or toy and which are connected to the internet are secure.   More >

Amsterdam warns about Airbnb legal advice

Amsterdam is one of 10 European cities which have asked the EU for more support in their campaign to reduce holiday rentals via websites such as Airbnb. The cities have sounded the alarm now the advocate general of the European Court of Justice has said Airbnb should be seen as an information provider and cannot be held responsible for landlords’ compliance with holiday letting rules. Airbnb, the advocate general said in April, should be seen as an online service connecting potential guests with hosts offering short-term accommodation. European Court judges normally follow their advisers’ non-binding opinions. 'Homes needed for residents to live and work in our cities, will become more and more considered as a market for renting out to tourists,' the 10 cities, which includes Barcelona and Bordeaux, say in a statement. 'We think that cities are best placed to understand their residents’ needs. They have always been allowed to organize local activities through urban planning or housing measures. The AG seems to imply that this will simply no longer be possible in the future when it comes to internet giants.' In particular the cities are concerned that the AG suggests enforcing local rules would be up to the councils themselves. They would have to 'identify anonymous addresses (data held by platforms), which places an excessive burden on public funds,' the cities said. In March Amsterdam's housing chief Laurens Ivens broke off talks with Airbnb, and HomeAway/Expedia on controlling holiday rental excesses had broken down and that the council would be taking its own measures to stop illegal home rentals to tourists.  More >

Police spend €400k on unused locator app

Instagram on a mobile phone. Police spent three years and €400,000 developing an emergency response app that has never been used, RTL Nieuws has revealed. The justice ministry ordered the police to build the app, which identified the location of callers to the 112 hotline in 2016 as a matter of priority. Ministers set a deadline of four months to complete the project, but a string of setbacks meant development work only began in early 2018. By the time it was finished the app had been overtaken by other mobile phone technology and was deemed surplus to requirements. Two delegations travelled to Finland on fact-finding missions to study a similar app used by police there. Finnish developer Digia agreed to sell the rights to use its design for €50,000, but the Dutch wanted to build their own app rather than adapt the Finnish version. Research agency TNO warned that the app was likely to be of limited use, since it could only locate callers who dialled in via the app and not their phone’s keypad. But senior police officers and politicians pressed on with the project, urging developers to display a ‘can-do’ mentality, RTL reported. The app was due to be launched in 2017, but although a communications strategy was drawn up that included ‘free publicity’ via TV shows such as Hart van Nederland, development work only began in February 2018. Around the same time the new justice minister, Ferd Grapperhaus, said he wanted to prioritise the introduction of Advanced Mobile Location (AML), which is already used in other countries and does not require a separate app. A police spokeswoman acknowledged that the ‘location function of the 112-app is essentially superfluous’, but added: ‘We are looking at whether more functions can be added to the app, such as images or a chat facility.’  More >

This week's best newspaper columns

Voting, regulating marijuana cultivation, literacy and final student year dissertations all came on board in the Dutch papers this week. Trouw published a piece by GroenLinks member Jelis van Leeuwen, in which he called for voting to be made mandatory. The turnout for the European elections, 42% in the Netherlands and 51% across the EU, was bad news for elections in democratic countries, and that ‘exactly because the Netherlands is a consensus democracy, it is crucial that as many votes are cast as possible,’ he said. Van Leeuwen argued that reintroducing mandatory voting, which was abolished in 1970, was the simplest and easiest way to get people to vote. Not voting, he said,  should be punished with a fine of up to €240, but people should have the option to hand in a blank voting form. In a column in the Volkskrant, college lecturer Nico Keuning said that universities should get rid of the final dissertation required for students to graduate. ‘Learning to write a readable, structured and supported dissertation with sources, on the basis of research and in correct Dutch or English, is often not even part of the curriculum, putting the average student in an impossible situation,’ Keuning said. Dissertations Students are often given pass grades out of pity, and many teachers are not capable of grading or supporting the writing of a 50-page dissertation, Keuning said. The writer offered another solution: allow students to choose between a presentation or a dissertation. The Telegraaf honed in on the government’s plans to experiment with regulated marijuana cultivation, with an opinion piece by former police chief Jan Blaauw. Blaauw argued that ‘in the end, legalising is surrendering to the drugs trade.’ Instead of legalising, the government should be doing more to fight drugs, the former police chief said.. ‘In my opinion, drug-related crime should be punished harshly. I’m not impressed with our country’s punishments. If you poison society, you shouldn’t get away with community service.’ Literacy The Financieele Dagblad published an article by a number of people involved in vocational training, and including Mariette Hamer of the government's advisory group SER, in which they called on the government to do more to combat illiteracy. ‘How is it possible that, in a prosperous country like the Netherlands, 2.5 million people are falling behind because of poor language, maths and digital skills?,’ the column asked. The writers called for more effort to be put into solutions, such as educational programmes, and was critical of the budget put aside by the government. While the government added €2m more per year, it should be doubled at least, the writers said. ‘It’s high time for an attacking and integral approach, with a budget that really gets results.’  More >

Digitisation makes NL vulnerable: NCTV

The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable to IT failures and attacks because almost all vital processes and systems have been completely digitised with no analogue back-ups, the Dutch counter terrorism unit NCTV said on Wednesday. ‘The Netherlands is dependent on a limited number of providers and countries. This makes us vulnerable to changed intentions,’ the report said. ‘For example, a large part of the hard and software is designed and produced in China and the US.’ In addition, little expertise is needed to launch a cyber attack which could, for example, knock out gas, electricity and water supplies. The best way to reduce the risks is to improve security systems. And while companies and government are taking action, they sometimes think the cost of the improvements are not worth it ‘until things go wrong,’ the NCTV said. The biggest threats come from China, Russia and Iran, the NCTV said, in a restatement of earlier reports. China presents the greatest threat in terms of economic espionage while Russia considers the Netherlands ‘interesting’ because of MH17, the report said.  More >

Facebook in court over fake bitcoin ads

Media magnate John de Mol and Facebook have been given two weeks to reach agreement on how to deal with fake adverts for bitcoin featuring De Mol, or face a court ruling. De Mol was in court on Wednesday asking for an injunction against Facebook for failing to remove the adverts, despite repeated requests. The adverts, which lead to fraudulent websites, show De Mol and include fake quotes about his earnings from the crypto currency. The media entrepreneur wants the court to order Facebook to remove the ads within five days or face sanctions. However, Facebook's lawyer Jens van den Brink told the court that De Mol's demand is out of proportion and 'technically impossible'. In addition, it is impossible to filter on the basis of the name John de Mol because many other people have that name, the lawyer said. The court judge said on Wednesday that he would give the two sides two weeks to come up with a reasonable solution. If no agreement is reached, the judge said, he would rule on the case.  More >

Dutch public broadcasting faces overhaul

The Dutch public broadcasting system is to be overhauled to reduce the amount of advertising and boost regional programming, broadcaster NOS said, quoting cabinet sources. The three state channels NPO 1,2 and 3, will be advertising-free until 8pm and all advertising will be removed from the online services, NOS said. The biggest impact will be on NPO3 which currently focuses on more youth orientated programming. Instead its remit will be largely to carry regional programming from the 12 provincial broadcasters. Scrapping adverts during daytime and early evening viewing will cost some €60m, of which €40m will be compensated for by the treasury. Savings and programming fees will make up the rest of the shortfall, NOS said. Media minister Arie Slob is currently working on a briefing for parliament about the proposals, but no date has yet been set for the changes to be formally presented. There are currently eight main Dutch public broadcasting companies operating under the NPO banner: AVROTROS, BNNVARA, EO, KRO-NCRV, MAX, Powned, VPRO and WNL, plus the news arm NOS and a number of specialist companies.  More >