Bits of Freedom monthly update on human rights & tech: April 2023

Read through the most interesting developments at the intersection of human rights and technology from the Netherlands. This is the fourth update in this series.

By Bits of Freedom (guest author) · June 14, 2023

Parliament moves to discuss new mass surveillance bill despite important parts missing

On April 5th, Parliament held a roundtable on the newly proposed changes to the secret services’ mass surveillance powers. Parliament heard the secret services, former oversight officials, academics and Bits of Freedom. Unfortunately, and quite bizarrely, the text Parliament is discussing, is only part of the bill that the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense want to pass.

The part that has been made available to Parliament contains what measures the secret services are allowed to take to intercept information. The part that is still missing, but which the ministers have promised can be expected any day, details which of that information can be stored and for how long. Bits of Freedom first and foremost urged Parliament to pause the proceedings until the full bill has been made available to them.

Secondly, it advise on improvements: the government should place limits on when the secret services can hack devices without having to obtain prior permission. New untargeted surveillance power must be stopped. And finally it must be prevented one oversight body (TIB) from losing its powers, and make sure the other (CTIVD) receives binding powers.


Dutch position on the AI-treaty is looking promising

The Minister of Digitization has given a bit of an insight into the Dutch position in the European negotiations on the AI-treaty of the Council of Europe. We’re pleased to see many of our concerns reflected. The minister emphasizes, among other things, the importance of human rights impact assessments, transparency, the right for people to know they’ve been subjected to automated systems and the right to meaningful redress mechanisms.

Of course, as long as algorithm oversight is massively underfunded, and law enforcement algorithms are exempt from having to be included in the government’s algorithm register, we still see a misalignment between the Minister’s intentions regarding AI, and the execution of those intentions. To be continued!

New bill for security coordinator reflects civil society concerns

In 2021, journalists uncovered that the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) had been illegally spying on people. Rather than penalize the coordinator for abusing her power, the Minister of Justice and Security rewarded the NCTV with a bill expanding its capacities. Essentially, the bill proposed intelligence powers, and, if that weren’t bad enough, neglected to propose accompanying intelligence oversight.

After spotlighting these risks and the anti-democratic haste with which the minister tried to push through the bill, we also contributed to mobilizing critical voices from within all stakeholder groups. And it paid off! The latest version of the text, published by the ministry this month, seems to reflect our concerns and reiterates that the NCTV is meant to coordinate intelligence gathering, not participate in surveillance itself. There’s still a bit of work to be done to make sure the text leaves no room for doubt about where the boundaries of the NCTV’s powers lie.

And finally…

The Research and Documentation Center finally published its report into the effects of encryption on law enforcement. It’s an interesting read, considering not only the difficulties posed by encryption, but also the ‘benefits’, and concluding that encryption might not mean the end of effective policing, after all. (Who knew!) Finally, we were shocked to read about discriminating algorithms. being used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in visa application processes, despite repeated warnings from the ministry’s data protection officer, who has since resigned.

This article was first published here by Bits of Freedom.

Contribution by: Evelyn Austin, Executive Director, EDRi member, Bits of Freedom