Dutch Government concocts digital trawling expeditions

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Since a few days there is justified commotion over two new Dutch government plans that will grossly invade people's privacy. The first one is a plan by Dutch Minister for Immigration, Integration and Asylum Affairs Gerd Leers of the Christian-democratic party CDA to start creating automatic risk profiles of every airplane passenger. Before going on a business trip or on vacation, you will get a little green, yellow, orange or red flag behind your name. Without you knowing it. This is no hint at a surprise party, no, it’s because in the eyes of the Dutch government you may be a dangerous terrorist. At Schiphol Airport you are hopefully amongst those who can quickly go passed the security checks for people with green flags. In case you have a different flag you’ll be taken apart, thoroughly checked and interrogated and as a consequence you might miss your flight. The legislative proposal hasn’t yet been sent to the Dutch House of Representatives, but the government is already starting to build the corresponding central infrastructure (PARDEX). This is the state of democracy in the Netherlands in 2012.

The second plan has been concocted by Dutch State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment Paul de Krom of the liberal party VVD. In terms of protection of privacy, De Krom happens to be just as uncompromising: his idea is to create comprehensive profiles of everyone entitled to social welfare from now on, on the basis of all the possible databases that can be linked to the municipal population register. In case an anomaly is found in your digital profile, you immediately appear on the radar of a central control room, a sort of Central Command for public benefits. Subsequently, it’s up to you to prove something’s not right with your profile, otherwise you may lose your benefit.  

Both proposals are all about profiling: creating and keeping up-to-date detailed risk profiles of ordinary citizens. In an ocean of information that for 99% derives from innocent people, Leers and De Krom are hoping to catch that 1% of (potential) troublemakers. (Do you remember 'The One Percent Doctrineby Dick Cheney?) In other words, it’s an inversion of the classic principle that the government is only allowed to intrude upon your privacy once there’s a reasonable suspicion of a crime. After all, through profiling everyone is treated as a (potential) suspect beforehand. This effectively turns the right to privacy into fiction.

Yesterday night this topic was discussed on Dutch radio programme Dichtbij Nederland (‘Close to the Netherlands’) on NTR, Radio 5. Apart from Vincent Böhre of Privacy First, two experts took part in the debate: criminologist Marianne van den Anker (former municipal councillor of the regional political party Leefbaar (‘Livable’) Rotterdam, dealing with security) and Marc Jacobs (writer and former police commissioner). The whole discussion can be listened to HERE (starting at 17m48s).

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