Luc Gommans/ blog

The Dutch demand referendum on new dragnet surveillance law

Written on 2017-10-10

The Dutch government approved a law which makes it possible for intelligence agencies to perform dragnet surveillance? on its citizens. The law will come into action on January 1st, 2018. In response to this, five students started a petition to have a referendum on this topic.

Hundreds of thousands of people have signed the petition, and it is all but certain that the Netherlands will get to vote on whether we want dragnet surveillance in our country or not.

The petition can be found on and is supported by privacy organizations such as Bits of Freedom and Privacy First, political parties such as the SP and PvdD, hosting companies such as BIT and Greenhost, and many more. Various other instances and scientists already expressed their concern regarding the new law, unrelated to the referendum, such as the Council of State and the Scientific Council for Government Policy.

Dutch law requires a referendum petition to have at least 300 000 valid signatures (on a population of 17.1 million) to force a referendum. These need to be sent to an agency by snail mail, which simplified by having an online form instead. The signatures will be printed by the organization and delivered to the concerning agency on October 16th. In a previous referendum petition, about 10% of the signatures were invalid, so a margin of error of 330 000 signatures is reasonable.

The counter is currently at 351 000, plus anyone who sent snail mail themselves, with four more days to go!

The referendum would be held in March together with municipal elections. Note that the result of the referendum will be an advice and the result will not be binding for the government. It is however yet another signal that the law does not have wide support. Already there has been much protest, a lawsuit against the state, and the parties were divided about the topic. A referendum with hundreds of thousands of signatures is yet another clear signal that this law is simply not okay.

People are often divided on political issues, since it's hard to make everyone happy. This law, however, not only includes dragnet surveillance (though that seems to be many people's main concern), it also includes: allowing intelligence services to hack any "automated device" (such as a Smart TV in your living room, or your smartphone), a secret DNA database with no limits on who might end up in there, and it is allowed to share data with foreign intelligence agencies.

After the petition got more than 300 000 signatures, the government finally responded where they were previously silent. An evaluation within two years is promised, to be performed by an independent organization, after which the law might be adjusted. Few details are mentioned regarding this evaluation, only the specific dragnet surveillance point. The media picks it up as "the government doesn't want a dragnet either and will evaluate the law" (NOS, general news, and Tweakers, tech news).

The government also promises to pay extra attention to the safeguards built into the law --- whereas the issue is precisely the lack of sufficient safeguards. The NOS fails to mention that the evaluation will not be any time soon, and neither source mentions that the new promises barely touch on the issues raised. Still, they are no longer silent.

The law is not yet defeated, but one thing is certain: we are finally having a two-sided discussion with our government regarding dragnet surveillance!

To be continued.

? The term "dragnet" surveillance is inspired by fishing nets: intelligence services can cast a wide net and spy on everyone in their mandate to catch specific bad people.