Dutch to hold referendum on intrusive surveillance law

The people of the Netherlands are going have the opportunity to vote in a referendum on whether or not their country’s law enforcement bodies should be handed sweeping new surveillance powers.

Under Dutch Law, if a petition with more than 300,000 signatures is submitted to the Dutch Voting Commission on an issue, the Government is obliged to hold a referendum on it. And earlier this week, it was announced [in Dutch] that a petition with 384,000 valid signatures had been received in relation to the country’s so-called “tapping law”.

The Intelligence and Security Services Act

As we reported earlier this year, the Dutch Government has recently passed the Intelligence and Security Services Act. This piece of legislation appeared to mirror similar laws, such as the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, in that it handed sweeping new surveillance powers to Dutch Intelligence Agencies.

These included permission for them to undertake bulk data collection on Dutch citizens regardless of whether they were suspected of an offence, something with critics claimed: “seriously undermines a core value of our free society, namely that citizens who are not suspected of wrongdoing, ought not to be monitored.”

Little wonder that the new law has become known as the ‘tapping law’ amongst the Dutch people and has proved wildly unpopular with most citizens. Those that have spoken out in favour of it have managed to muster little more than the usual arguments about security and innocent people having nothing to fear.

An opportunity to stop the surveillance

But now, the Dutch have the opportunity to have their say on the new law directly in a referendum that will take place on March 21st, 2018. This is the same day as municipal elections in the Netherlands and analysts are split on whether this is a good thing or not.

On the one hand, it may mean an increased turnout, but on the other hand, the elections could distract voters from the core issue of the referendum.

The referendum is non-binding on the Dutch Government, which means they do not have to scrap the new law if the Dutch people vote against it. But it would be a brave Government that acts directly against the will of the people on a matter such as this.

Their only possible bit of wriggle room is the rules which require this referendum in the first place. They are in themselves controversial and there has been talk that the Dutch Government might repeal them. This could not happen before this referendum is held, but it is possible that if the people of the Netherlands vote against their Government’s position, that might trigger a repeal.

No guarantees

To have an impact on the new law, the referendum needs to achieve a turnout of at least 30% and for a majority to vote against it. If that happens, the Government would be expected to look again at the law, but could theoretically just tweak it and then put it into effect.

But a no vote would send a strong message to the Dutch Government that their citizens, especially younger voters, are not happy at having their freedoms undermined in this manner. The new law could have “far-reaching consequences for citizen freedoms”, explained a group of students from Amsterdam University who have been campaigning for the referendum.

There is, of course, no guarantee that the referendum will reach the conclusion the campaigners hope for. A similar one in Switzerland last year saw a majority of people support increased surveillance. But when a new law will impact the lives of every citizen, it seems right that they should all have the right to voice their opinion.

Should the new law come into effect anyway, the Dutch can always turn to a VPN to ensure all of their data is encrypted and anonymous online. You can read about the best VPN for the Netherlands here, with IPVanish and ExpressVPN among our top picks to protect yourself against Dutch Government surveillance.

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