On 11 July 2017, the Dutch Senate passed the bill for the new Intelligence and Security Services Act. With the Senate vote, a years-long political battle has come to an end: the secret services have been given dragnet surveillance powers.
It is beyond disappointing that a bill that faced such overwhelming opposition from experts, civil society and citizens alike has been passed. Traditionally, Senate concerns itself with the quality of legislation, compliance with the constitution and international treaties, and the question of whether citizens’ rights are upheld. The dragnet surveillance bill fails on all counts.
Targeted surveillance is already within the powers of the secret services. The new law additionally allows for untargeted surveillance, for the systematic and large-scale interception and analysis of citizens’ online communications. Large numbers of citizens who are not suspected of any wrongdoing can be systematically monitored.
A line has been crossed. How did we arrive at this point?
2015: The internet consultation
Following a lot of speculation, the first version of the bill was finally published in the summer 2015, as part of an internet consultation. The intention was to fully update and replace the existing law for the Dutch secret services. The proposal faced massive opposition. A record number of 1100 consultation responses was received, of which 557 were public. The majority of the responses were submitted using our online consultation tool and focused on three topics: the dragnet surveillance power, exchange with foreign services, and oversight.
Following this outcry from citizens and industry alike, a new draft of the proposal was leaked in April 2016. The bill had been updated in some areas, but in general hardly anything was done to address the feedback on these three topics. Despite changing the wording, the dragnet surveillance, newly dubbed “research-oriented interception”, remained part of the bill.
2016-2017: The bill in Parliament
On 28 October 2016, the final draft of the bill was sent to Parliament by the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Ronald Plasterk. During a committee meeting, experts, regulators and industry voiced harsh criticism of the proposal. EDRi-member Bits of Freedom also expressed its concerns to members of Parliament and to the media. Making use of the website geensleep.net, citizens, on a massive scale, contacted members of Parliament.
This was all to no avail. The government had clearly closed ranks and ignored nearly all feedback. The opposition tried to improve the proposal by tabling amendments, but only a fraction of the total of 40 amendments was adopted. On 14 February 2017, it was decided: a majority in Parliament voted for the dragnet surveillance bill.
2017: The bill in Senate
The bill then reached the Senate. A number of senators raised critical questions over two rounds of correspondence. The Minister’s answers arrived speedily, but raised more questions than answers. Although the bill was again met with a lot of criticism, a majority voted in favour, and passed the flawed bill, just before midnight, faced with an imagined deadline ahead of the summer recess.
During the debate in the Senate, the Minister of Interior announced that the law come into effect on 1 January 2018. Together with other NGOs, Bits of Freedom is exploring the possibilities of fighting the law in court.
Dutch House of Representatives passes dragnet surveillance bill (22.02.2017)
Dutch Parliament: Safety net for democratic freedoms or sleepnet? (08.02.2017)
Dutch dragnet surveillance bill leaked (04.05.2016)
Netherlands: New proposals for dragnet surveillance underway (06.10.2015)
Dutch Minister reveals plans for dragnet surveillance (15.07.2015)
(Contribution by EDRi member Bits of Freedom; translation by Philip Westbroek)