Dutch police can hack into suspects' computers from March

Dutch police
A sign hanging in front of a Dutch police post. April 30, 2006Photo: M.M.Minderhoud via Michiel1972Wikimedia CommonsCC-BY-SA

From March 1st the Dutch police will be allowed to hack into the computer, smartphone or server of people suspected of serious crimes - crimes that carry a prison sentence of at least 4 years. The law that makes this possible was implemented on Friday, NU.nl reports.

This law, Computer Crime III, passed through the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament in December 2016. And the Eerste Kamer, the Dutch Senate, approved it in June. It allows the police to break into a suspect's devices to collect evidence for a crime. In this way the police can, for example, monitor communications and copy data. 

Before the police can hack a suspect's devices, the Public Prosecutor must first get approval from a magistrate. The Prosecutor must test the power internally on two points. The first is proportionality - does the severity of the measure outweigh the severity of the crime. The second is subsidiarity - can the same goal be achieved with a less severe measure. Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security also emphasized that the measure will only be used if there is an urgent investigative interest. 

In December the Standing Committee for Justice and Security still criticized giving the police this power, arguing that hacking into someone's devices goes far beyond a simple house search. "Everything is watched continually 24/7, including the people who have access to that [digital] environment and the environment around the suspect", the committee chairman said to Minister Grapperhaus. The committee also said that the Minister did not sufficiently argue why the current hacking powers the police have are insufficient. "This creates the impression that you're not implementing these new powers because you have to, but because you can."

In addition to hacking suspects, the new law also allows the police to act as a 'bait teenager' in the fight against online grooming - luring a child into sexual assault. A virtual avatar may be used for this. Critics point out that a person can then be convicted for chatting with a virtual avatar - the criminal proceeding will only involve a suspect, not a human victim. The law also makes the purchase, possession or sale of stolen computer data punishable.