Fiber Festival 2015: The Subterranean

Dutch Minister of the Interior reveals plans for dragnet surveillance

Een goede start is geen garantie voor een epic win
DOSSIER / Sleepnet voor geheime diensten

Ronald Plasterk, the Dutch Minister of the Interior, wants to make sure that the Dutch secret services have the powers to spy on the behaviour of all citizens and gain insight in all of their communications: phone calls, emails, chat messages and website visits. This much is clear after he published an update of the 2002 secret services bill and put it into online consultation last week.

Dutch digital rights organisation Bits of Freedom will scrutinize the bill in the next few weeks and provide input for the consultation. Three things immediately jump out as very worrying on a first inspection:

The secret services will gain the power to use a dragnet form of surveillance. The Minister has given assurances that the dragnet will only be used for specific purposes, but has not provided adequate safeguards limiting the mass surveillance of unsuspected citizens. There is no guarantee that these powers will only be used to target a specific group of people instead of a much broader and ill-defined group like all persons in the Netherlands who are in contact with Syria. What if the services want to do the same for Marocco, or France, or the United States? And do this all at the same time?

If there is a suspicion that someone wants to do harm, then it is already possible to put them under surveillance if necessary and proportionate. The Dutch services currently have the option to wiretap all communications of their targets. Using this dragnet to identify or monitor possible threats for the Dutch national security will inevitably ensnare many innocent people, breaching their rights in the process. There has not been any discussion in the Netherlands about the necessity of these powers.

A second issue in the proposed bill is access to this bulk data by foreign services. Data which has been intercepted in bulk by the Dutch secret services can be shared in bulk with foreign services, even before the data has been evaluated. And anybody can be put under surveillance as soon as the Dutch secret service learns that they have been followed before by a foreign service, regardless of whether this person would be considered dangerous under Dutch law.

A final issue is the expansion of the hacking powers of the secret services. Since 2002, they have been allowed to hack into the devices of a subject (which could also mean the servers of a forum). In this proposal, this power will be expanded to include subjects that are in some way (even if only technically) connected to the real subject, in order to get to the real subject. This could mean that an unsuspecting user of a server might be hacked to gain access to another user of that same server.

The proposed bill obviously also affects non-Dutch citizens and does not provide any answers to the global problem of state surveillance. Rather, it could be seen as an attempt to bring the Netherlands into the surveillance game. Instead of making an effort to end mass surveillance this bill only increases the number of mass surveilling states.

The online consultation will be open till September 1st, 2015.

This article first appeared in EDRi-gram newsletter – Number 13.14, 15 July 2015.

  1. Anoniem

    The appropriate question to ask is: Why? What advantage does a dragnet mass surveillance offer in terms of law enforcement? You’re stuck with a massive bulk of data, of which you can’t even evaluate 100%. Interestingly, the thought of being watched and the thought of being perceived as potential threat in subjects increases the inclination to commit a crime (studies for example on pedophiles show that), so mass surveillance would/will likely even increase crime rates! If it was about security, baitfishing would be more effective than dragnetting. However, as far as I know, baitfishing is still not allowed in most European countries. The last paragraph is a good hint at what the actual motivation is. Data is power, even useless data can be sold to someone. As soon as you ask yourself, why the information on what youtube videos you watched and what porn sites you accessed is valuable data to someone, you’ll get very deep into thousands of conspiracy theories. The shocking part is that despite the vast variety, none of them has a good result and due to a lack of alternative, it’s likely one of them is true.
    Governments serve the population, they should be reminded that they are servants and not owners of said population. I have yet to meet a dutch person agreeing with this bill. It’s a typical flaw of democracy. We’re presented a choice of who is going to be governor, making us think we have the choice over politics. But in the end, the people have no real influence on such bills. Petitions are the only weapon, and they typically only can force the parliament to “take another look” at the proposed bills or policies…
    I’m glad someone is analyzing those and presenting their flaws, keep up the good work.

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