Will the Dutch government start to eavesdrop on her civilliians on a massive scale? | Belicons

Will the Dutch government start to eavesdrop on her civilliians on a massive scale?

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Thursday 12 October 2017

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Will the Dutch government start to eavesdrop on her civilliians on a massive scale?

Regularly we hear people worrying about their governments narrowing down their personal space more and more. ‘Big brother is watching you!’ seems to become a reality. For that reason people start to protest against the expansion of the rights of these agencies, but often without much success.

In The Netherlands something special is happening. People now have the possibility to force the government to hold a referendum. A few students started to collect signatures against a law that gives the security agencies much more rights. In the end they actually succeeded in collecting enough signatures, so this referendum may become a reality. What they say about this law, among other things, is (Text link in Dutch) that they are allowed to use a so-called “trawl net” to eavesdrop to online communication on a large scale, even of civilians who are no suspects.

Such a message will make most people afraid. However, in case of The Netherlands it doesn’t seem to be totally true. So that shows that it is important to not only listen to the people who are against a certain law, but also to try to find out what the security agencies are really doing.

Why do security agencies need so many rights?

In the last few decades much has changed in our ways of communication. Criminals use social media, email, and other sorts of communication to plan their crimes. If the security agencies don’t have the right to investigate all these forms of communication, then they may not be able to prevent as many crimes as they may have if they had more rights. Because our ways of communication are changing this quickly, laws need to change too.

What are people so worried about?

People are afraid that innocent people get into trouble. Suppose a high school student writes an essay on the Jihad and searches for that and similar words on Google. Could (s)he be arrested just because this sounds suspected to the security agencies? Just remind the story of the women who was arrested just because she searched for a pressure cooker on the Internet. So who is going to protect the good people against these agencies?
 

Peiling: Afluisteren moet echt een laatste redmiddel zijn om een terrorist te pakken

Peiling: Afluisteren moet echt een laatste redmiddel zijn om een terrorist te pakken

Lees de blog bij deze peiling https://www.belicons.nl/nl/blog/sleepnet

Poll: Eavesdropping on civillians should be a last resort to catch a terrorist

Poll: Eavesdropping on civillians should be a last resort to catch a terrorist

Read the blog that goes with this poll https://www.belicons.nl/en/blog/trawl-net

Body 2: 

Security agencies will always be a difficult issue. We want to be protected over against terrorists and other criminals, but we don’t want to become a suspect if we haven’t done anything wrong. Moreover, both proponents and opponents of the expansion of the rights of these agencies are trying to convince us with all kinds of arguments that we should be in favour or against these laws so that we cannot see the wood for the trees any more. So what can we do?

Well, interesting is that The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights said that they are worried about the balance between security and privacy. I think that is exactly what this all is about. Each country should try to find the right balance between security and privacy. So let’s take a look at these subjects.

Security

Our image of security agencies

Security quickly becomes one of the most important subjects in our societies. In several countries terrible terrorist attacks already have been committed and now all countries are trying to prevent more attacks from being committed.

Sometimes security agencies make mistakes and then this is national or even international news. Just search on Google for ‘security agencies mistakes’ and you’ll find all kinds of examples in which things have gone wrong. What also stands out is that many people aren’t that optimistic about these agencies.

At the same time these agencies are doing many good things too, but those aren’t all over the news. Security agencies of course cannot share all their successes with the world, but that will help the criminals and we don’t want that to happen.

Security agencies and the law

It is very important to security agencies to keep the law, otherwise terrorists can be set free just because an agency made some mistake. So when the law doesn’t allow them to investigate suspects on social media, it is just bad luck if a certain suspect communicates most via this means.

This makes it very important that the law stays up to date with developments in communication technologies. No criminal should be able to commit a crime just because security agencies didn’t have enough rights to stop him or her. I think everybody agrees on that (except of criminals).

Privacy

Twee extremes

But there is another side to this story. Opponents of the expansion of the rights of these agencies are afraid that these agencies will get too many rights so that innocent people will also be bothered by these agencies. And these laws aren’t easy to understand. So what should we do?

Next to the people who are very worried about what their security agencies are able to do, there are also people who don’t worry about this at all. They say: ‘I have nothing to hide, so let them collect all the information they need.’ That sounds nice, but it is really another extreme.

Can anyone become a suspect? Yes, indeed. Suppose you live in the neighbourhood of a suspect, one of your relatives is a suspect and you visit the same gym as a suspect. The security agencies might reach the conclusion that a person who has so many suspect around her or himself is suspicious too.

So even though some people are exaggerating about the threats of these agencies, I do think that no one should think that there is no danger in collecting information at all. What stands out in the Dutch debate about this is that opponents and proponents of the updated law point to the role of a supervisory committee that should make sure that the security agencies are keeping the law. I think that indeed this is crucial about making security agencies future-proof.

Doubts about supervisory bodies

Proponents as well as opponents of this updated law doubt whether the so-called supervisory committees that should check what the security agencies are doing will do their jobs well enough. And I think they should be worried. In the last few years we have seen that supervisory bodies are often failing. The best well known example is the failing supervision in the financial sector. In some sectors supervisor boards are just turning a blind eye but sometimes supervisors are even being threatened and thus they are afraid to fine companies for not keeping the law.

Good supervisory bodies should be normal again

Most of the work of security agents is invisible to us and that makes the work of supervisory boards extra important. If many supervisory boards in several sectors are not doing a good job we can wonder why we should trust the supervision of the security agencies.

Governments need to realize that if the supervision on these agencies is not working well, this will affect these agencies negatively. On the one hand it can happen that civilians are regarded as suspects but are actually innocent. On the other hand it can happen that the agencies start to collect as much information that they cannot see the forest for the trees any more. So both civilians and these agencies benefit of good supervision and thus this should be the backbone of all policies and laws concerning these agencies.

But good supervision is not easy to establish. So I think that it is important that we will have more attention for supervision in all kinds of sectors, so that it will become normal that supervisory bodies do a good job throughout society.

But this shouldn’t only be established on paper. In practice supervisors who are being threatened should know how to be able to report this safely and the persons who are threatening them should be arrested. Supervisors who turn a blind eye should be fired immediately so that it is clear that we can trust these boards. They should also appoint new supervisors regularly so that these boards keep a fresh perspective. But the supervisors should always be people who are competent for this job. And of course, in some way all these processes need to be checked too.

All governments should make supervision the backbone of their policies on security agencies. I realize that some governments may just do this, but others won’t. But if they do it will become less problematic to assign more rights to their security agencies.

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