Boosted Dutch wire-tap data law to be put to referendum
Dutch students angered by plans to boost government intelligence data gathering have won approval for the issue to be put to a people’s referendum next year, officials said Wednesday.
Under the draft law, Dutch intelligence and security services could trawl for information “by massively tapping into communications even by citizens who are not under suspicion,” the students from Amsterdam University said.
Now they have gathered enough signatures to force the government to organise a referendum on the law which they warn could have “far-reaching consequences for citizen freedoms”. “A whole district could be put under surveillance if a suspect lives there,” they maintain, saying all kinds of machines “could be hacked such as telephones, computers and smart televisions.” “All Facebook messages for example could be intercepted in the targeted town and stored for years,” added campaigners against the law.
Dragnet data collection by governments has become increasingly controversial since the extent of the US spying programme on millions of its citizens was revealed in 2013 by former American security contractor Edward Snowden. But the Dutch government has insisted individual freedoms will be protected and stressed data collection via telephones, email or internet spying “can only take place if there is a good reason”.
The Dutch Electoral Council on Wednesday announced the campaign had gathered more than the 300,000 signatures needed to force the holding of a non-binding referendum on the draft law set to come into effect in 2018. If more than 30 percent of the Dutch electorate vote in the referendum and a majority oppose the law, the government should normally re-examine the proposal, the electoral council said, while stressing the referendum was purely consultative.
The exact date of the referendum has yet to be set, but it is likely to be added to upcoming local elections set for March 21, the council added.
In April 2016, Dutch eurosceptic groups won a symbolic victory when voters in a similar referendum rejected a key EU-Ukraine treaty. It was a humiliating blow to Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who had to negotiate to compromise with the 27 other countries which had already ratified the pact.
But the Dutch law enabling such referendums has been hotly contested since it came into force in 2015, and the new Rutte government sworn in last week has pledged to repeal it.