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Last updated on 30.03.2018 at 08:59

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Dutch voters reject "Big Brother Charter"

Dutch voters reject "Big Brother Charter"

In a surprise result, Dutch voters rejected a new law which would have seen authorities given extensive new powers to carry out surveillance and collection of electronic data.

Expression

In a referendum on 21st March 2018, Dutch voters rejected a law which would have increased the state's powers to carry out surveillance and collect people's electronic data. More than 384,000 signatures were collected for the referendum to take place. In total, 49.5 percent of voters chose to reject the law and 46.5 percent voted in favour of it. This particular law - the Intelligence and Security Services Act 2017 - had been passed in July 2017 after years of debate. It has been described by critics as the "Dragnet Law" and "Big Brother Charter" because of its perceived and potential intrusion into the private lives of citizens.

The result of the referendum came as a surprise to many, as polls ahead of the vote showed a majority in favour of the legislation. Dutch internet freedom group Bits of Freedom welcomed the final outcome, noting that civil society's campaign around the referendum had helped to raise public awareness of internet freedom and state control over online communications. The group remarked that:

"In recent months we have worked together with a lot of volunteers and other organizations to convince as many people as possible that this law should be improved. Privacy, internet freedom and the work of the secret services have finally become adult subjects that people take seriously. We want to thank everyone who contributed to this result for their efforts". (Translated from Dutch)

The government acknowledged the results of the referendum and Prime Minister Mark Rutte responded that the government would need to reexamine the law. While the referendum does not have legal force, the consensus appears to be that the government will have to listen to voters' concerns and amend the law accordingly when the Senate considers it in April. Amnesty International Netherlands has called on the government to ensure that the law is amended to prohibit widespread collection of citizens' data and ensure that the Dutch intelligence service does not share the data with foreign governments. 

Despite the victory for civil society groups behind the petition and resulting referendum on the security law, the final result led the lower house of the Dutch parliament on 22nd February to vote to abolish advisory referenda in the Netherlands. That decision is now expected to be confirmed by the Senate; however, civil society groups such as Meer Democratie are planning to take the lower house's decision to court.

Peaceful Assembly

On 28th March 2018, Monitor research partner Liberties.eu reported on the Dutch Ombudsman's concerns that the right to protest is under pressure in the Netherlands. In his new report entitled "Protesting, an abrasive fundamental right?", Ombudsman Reiner van Zutphen says that the government tends to be risk-averse in its approach to demonstrations, saying that authorities typically try to balance the need for public order and safety equally with the right to demonstrate. He urges local authorities and the police to facilitate protests and that any restrictions on assemblies should be "legally justifiable and well-motivated". As Liberties reports, this means making "every effort to facilitate and protect protests so that citizens can freely express their opinions - however unpopular they may be".

The importance of the successful policing of protests in modern-day Netherlands was evidenced in late January 2018 as Dutch far-right supporters held protests in Rotterdam. The protest on 20th January drew several hundred people. Far-right politician Gert Wilders spoke about the need to crack down on immigration, saying that "we live here, not in Morocco, we don't live in Turkey or in Saudi Arabia, but in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands". There was a heavy police presence during the protest, as a police cordon successfully separated the far-right supporters from a small group of counter-demonstrators and no clashes or incidents of violence were reported.

Association in Netherlands

Freedom of association is guaranteed by law and respected in practice. Everyone has the right to freely form and join an organisation. However, this right may be subject to restrictions in the interest of public order.

Association

Freedom of association is guaranteed by law and respected in practice. Everyone has the right to freely form and join an organisation, however this right may be subject to restrictions in the interest of public order. Civil society organisations are easy to set up, while registration and reporting requirements depend on the type of organisation that is formed. Importantly, it is not mandatory for an informal association to be registered. Formal associations with full legal capacity are established by notarial deed and required to register in the Dutch Chamber of Commerce. Regulations and practices allow civil society organisations to exercise self-governance without interference in their internal structures, operating procedures and activities. They also have the freedom to seek, receive and use financial resources, including from foreign sources, and join other associations and federations, whether national or international.

Peaceful Assembly in Netherlands

The right to assembly and demonstration is enshrined in the Constitution and may only be limited to the extent necessary to prevent public disorder, for traffic reasons or to protect health.

The right to assembly and demonstration is enshrined in the constitution and may only be limited to the extent necessary to prevent public disorder, for traffic reasons or to protect health. The Law on Public Demonstrations provides that the right to assembly is regulated by local bylaws adopted by local governments. Notification requirements for public assemblies vary from town to town. Mayors have the power to impose restrictions and prohibit a demonstration. They may also ban an assembly for non-compliance with the notification requirements. Reports indicate that simultaneous opposition assemblies are facilitated but often on condition that they are staged out of sight and sound of one another. Civil society also reports that restrictions placed on assemblies are sometimes not communicated early enough to allow organisers to apply for a judicial review of the decision before the date of the assembly. Delayed communication from the authorities can also impede the early dissemination of information about the event. Civil society has also documented the use of force, detentions and kettling by the police. Freedom to monitor and report on public assemblies is guaranteed to the media.


Expression in Netherlands

The right to freedom of expression is protected by the Constitution and may only be restricted in the case of expression of hatred on the basis of race, religion, personal convictions or sexual orientation.

The right to freedom of expression is protected by the Constitution and may only be restricted in the case of expression of hatred on the basis of race, religion, personal convictions or sexual orientation. Provisions penalising blasphemy were abolished in 2013 but insulting the monarchy remains a criminal offence. Within those legal limits, which apply also to online expression, everyone has the right to voice their opinions and to freely receive and give out information through any media. Media are free, independent and pluralistic. Reported cases of press censorship are rare. However, there are indications that journalists experience some degree of self-censorship on sensitive topics, in particular when religion and immigration are concerned. Incidents of violence, threats and intimidation against journalists are rare. The Internet is widely available and access is unrestricted.


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