New law allows Dutch police to hack suspects

A new law adopted by the Eerste Kamer, the Dutch Senate, on Tuesday allows the Dutch police to hack suspects' devices like smartphones, laptops, security cameras and navigation systems. Previously only the intelligence services had that capability, RTL Nieuws reports. 

A majority consisting of the VVD, PvdA, CDA, ChristenUnie and D66 voted for the law, officially called Computer Crime Act III. GroenLinks, SP, 50Plus, PvdD and PVV voted against. It will be implemented on January 1st next year. The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, approved the law in December.

The police want to use hacking mainly in detecting drug dealers, smugglers, pedophiles and cyber criminals who carry out attacks on banks. The law allows the police to hack people suspected of crimes that carry a prison sentence of at least four years, according to the broadcaster.

A controversial part of the law is that it allows the use of hacking software. Previously the police were only allowed to physically install tools, like key loggers, on a device. Hacking tools can be installed remotely. Hacking software use unknown vulnerabilities, called zerodays, to break into devices. If the police themselves find such a vulnerability, they have to immediately report it to the software developer so that it can be fixed. The problem with hacking tools is that the user does not know which vulnerabilities are being abused, and therefore cannot report it to the manufacturer.

There is a lot of criticism on the use of such hacking software. "In practice this software will be used a lot", Ton Siesma of civil rights organization Bits of Freedom said to the broadcaster. "With this, the police maintain a shadowy market that benefits from your insecurity. With this law the Netherlands does not become safer, but more insecure."

Another important part of this new law is that it bans purchasing stolen digital information, thereby treating stolen digital information the same as other stolen goods. The law also gives the police the possibility to use a "bait teenager" while tracking down pedophile. This will not be an actual teenager, and will not even necessarily be a human. Aid organization Terre des Hommes, for example, uses a virtual little girl named Sweetie to track down pedophiles.