Dutch gov't should listen to 'no' voters in Big Data referendum: Amnesty

Data theft
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Human rights organization Amnesty International calls on the Dutch government to do justice to the millions of people who voted against a new law for the Dutch intelligence services in a referendum on Wednesday. The law should be changed on certain points to make certain it protects human rights, the Dutch branch of the organization said in a statement on Thursday.

"In recent weeks, a broad public debate was held about the new legal powers of the intelligence and security services and how these relate to our human rights", Eduard Nazarski, director of Amnesty International Nederland, said. "Millions of people voted against a law that poses a serious threat to those rights. This is a strong signal from society to the government that the law must really be adapted on a number of important components."

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.

Amnesty acknowledges that governments have to protect their people against terrorism and other threats, and that it is therefore important for the intelligence services to be able to "conduct efficient and targeted investigations into persons, groups and organizations that pose a danger to society". But this should not come at the cost of human rights - something governments are also responsible for protecting, the organization said. 

To prevent human rights violations, the government should adapt the law on at least three points, according to Amnesty. Data of people who do not pose a threat to national security should not systematically and widely be collected and analyzed. A supervisor must be appointed that can make binding rulings on the services' activities afterwards. And unfiltered data must under no circumstances be shared with foreign services. 

"For Amnesty it is of great importance that the law is adapted to these points. Commitments outside the law, such as in the coalition agreement for example, offer insufficient guarantees for the prevention of human rights violations", the organization said. 

The official results of the referendum will only be announced next week Thursday, March 28th, according to NOS. In the interim results, slightly more people voted against the law than for. At 1:30 p.m. on Friday the results stood at 48.7 percent against and 47.3 percent for. 

If the final results show a majority of 'no' voters, it does not necessarily mean that the government will change the law - this is an advisory referendum and the results are not binding. It does, however, mean that parliament has to re-examine and re-debate the law. 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.