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State of play of internet freedom in the Netherlands

Our German colleagues of Digitalcourage asked us what we think the most important developments in the field of digital civil rights in the Netherlands. There’s all kinds of broad tendencies that we’re watching scrupulously: the dominant positions of a handful of tech giants, the Internet of Things, the idea that technology cannot be neutral, et cetera. But we’re also working hard to prevent the occurrence of a number of very real threats to your internet freedom. Here’s five of them.

The dragnet for the Secret Service
Recently Minister of the Interior Ronald Plasterk published a bill for a new Intelligence and Security Services Act. This bill will give the most far reaching power to the intelligence and security services to tap us. We’re not merely talking about telephone conversations, they will be able to tap chat messages, email messages and the websites you visited. It’s true that the current Intelligence and Security Services Act already allows the security services to tap specific individuals they want to monitor, but the new law would allow them to collect data in bulk. This way innocent people will end up in the dragnet too.

But there’s more problems tied to this bill. The exchange of our data with foreign security services will not be limited. That means that our data can be handed over to other intelligence & security services without the Dutch security service even knowing the content of the dataset they provide. Finally, there’s no independent, legally binding oversight. If the oversight committee concludes that the minister has unjustly allowed the application of such a dragnet, the minister can simply overrule the oversight committee, he can only be held accountable by Parliament. We believe that oversight over intelligence and security services should not be left to politicians.

Reintroduction of retention law
Recently the Dutch retention law was thwarted. Under that law everybody’s location and communication behaviour would be stored for up to a year. A law with a massive impact on our freedom [https://www.bof.nl/2014/07/30/how-your-innocent-smartphone-passes-on-almost-your-entire-life-to-the-secret-service/], as the judges noticed too. Unfortunately the minister of Security and Justice, Van der Steur, has already indicated that he will introduce a new data retention bill. You can count on us to keep a careful eye on that bill.

Hacking Criminal Investigation Departments
This same minister, Van der Steur, desires to grant the Dutch law enforcement the power to hack computers and other equipment like iPads and smartphones. Ironically this will only make the Dutch internet user more unsafe, because the police can perform a hack easier via an existing vulnerability in the software. Imagine the police has the ability to enter a suspect’s Outlook via a backdoor. The police wants this backdoor to remain open a little longer. Unfortunately this means that all other Outlook users will be vulnerable to cyber criminals too. So the hacking bill will actually have a contrary effect on cyber security. That’s exactly why we’re going to do our utmost to get this hacking power off the table.

Europe is replacing our national privacy law
The negotiations about the new European General Data Protection Regulation are reaching their final stage. The result of these negotiations will be applicable to the Dutch internet users too. Obviously this regulation will have a massive impact. Right now we’re investigating the lobby at the Dutch government and try to expose the Dutch market for data brokers.

Lastly: the European regulations concerning net neutrality
The Netherlands was the first country in Europe that had implemented net neutrality in law. We were quite proud of that. This net neutrality law made sure that we, the internet users, can determine for ourselves which services we choose or choose not to use. It also facilitated the development of a European regulation for net neutrality. By now we’re in the finals stage of the European negotiations about this bill. The result will probably not be as strong as our national regulation, but it’s important for the European internet user to keep as much freedom of choice as possible on the world wide web.

Translation from Dutch into English by Jay Achterberg, thanks!

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