Dutch wiretap law referendum "too close to call"

Ballot for the referendum on the Intelligence and Security Law, 21 March 2018
Ballot for the referendum on the Intelligence and Security Law, 21 March 2018Photo: Zachary Newmark / NL Times

An exit poll published on Wednesday night showed that roughly 48 percent of the Netherlands population turned out to vote in a referendum on a law that would give intelligence services authority to collect and access a massive amount of data. With a five percent margin of error, the Ipsos/NOS poll said that 49 percent voted in favor of the law, and 48 percent against, with three percent registering no-votes.

This new law - officially called the Intelligence and Security Law, but also referred to by opponents as the Big Data Law - gives the Netherlands' two intelligence and security services more power. The biggest change is that the AIVD and MIVD will be able to tap telephone and internet traffic on a large scale. The services will also be allowed to perform hacks more often, and on a larger range - where the services can now only hack a specific suspect, the new law allows them to reach the suspect by hacking the computer of a housemate, for example. The new law also gives the services the capability of storing DNA material for investigations. The expansion of powers is balanced with more supervision on the services.

Around 13 million Dutch had the chance to vote in a referendum on whether or not a new law for the Dutch intelligence and security services should be implemented. As more than 30 percent of voters cast a vote, the referendum is valid. Now one of two things can happen. If a majority of voters voted for the law, it will be implemented as planned on May 1st.

If a majority of the voters voted against the law, parliament will be forced to re-examine and re-debate the law.  But the parliamentarians can choose to leave the law unchanged, as this is only an advisory referendum and the outcome is not binding. In the Ukraine referendum a majority voted against a trade agreement between the European Union and the Ukraine. The government compromised by adding an amendment to the agreement to address opponents' concerns. The same could happen here. 

This bill was controversial from its introduction. Civil rights organizations, the Council for the Judiciary, the Dutch Association for Journalists, the scientific council for government policy WRR and the Council of State all criticized the data mining law. Despite this, it passed relatively easily through the Tweede Kamer and Eerste Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament and the Dutch Senate.

The law will be evaluated in two years' time, to make sure that citizens' privacy is sufficiently guaranteed, according to NOS. A lawsuit against the law is also currently in the works - opponents believe that certain parts of the law are in violation of human rights.