Say no to the sleepwet

16 March 2018

Say no to the sleepwet

This Wednesday, 21st March sees local elections in the Netherlands. On the same day, a referendum will be held on the so-called 'sleepwet'. To English speakers pronounced 'slapewet', the sleepwet has nothing to with sleep, but derives from the Dutch verb meaning to drag or haul. Its full title is 'the law on the intelligence and security services 2017 (Wiv)', which gives an idea of what will be being hauled in. The SP is conducting a campaign against the sleepwet. When we said 'listen to the people', we didn't mean eavesdrop on us

Below are listed the principal arguments against the new law.

Sharing data with foreign intelligence services

Data collected on you may, according to the sleepwet, be shared with foreign governments, even with repressive regimes. These data, moreover, may be shared without our knowing what they consist of or in what way or where they will be used. Some governments use private data on activists, politicians and journalists in order to force them into silence.

Tearing down the referendum law

In the referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, to the enormous disappointment of the government (at the time a coalition of centre-right VVD and centre-left PvdA), two-thirds of those voting were opposed. The establishment parties all of a sudden understood that the consultative referendum no longer suited them. They're only happy with mature, independent citizens when they don't oppose their policies. Under the command of Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren of D66, a party which since its founding has been full of the idea of “citizens' participation”, a slender majority in Parliament voted to abolish the consultative referendum. A piece of subterfuge enabled the parties to prevent even the law abolishing referenda to be put to a referendum.

Everything is permitted

Under the sleepwet, all forms of device may be tapped and hacked by the secret services, whether already in existence or still to be invented. Smartphones can of course be used not only to make calls or consult apps, but to take photos and record sound, which means your phone can become a permanent camera or microphone. In theory even a pacemaker can be hacked. We don't know yet everything that will be invented in the future. A chip in your arm which can use to pay for things? That would also fall automatically within the scope of the sleepwet.

It doesn't help defeat terrorism

The sleepwet's supporters argue that it's an important weapon in the struggle against international terrorism. The most fanatical amongst them go as far as to say 'whoever is against the sleepwet is for terrorism.' This avoids the core of the problem, because in the case of virtually every attack we are told that the perpetrators were already known to the police or the security services, or that warnings from members of the public about certain individuals had not been adequately heeded by the relevant bodies. It's not only progressive parties and human rights organisations which have their doubts about the value of sifting through a salvo of information. The FBI is also of the opinion that this will not help prevent attacks.

Privacy is important

The sleepwet will enable the Dutch intelligence and security services to have access to your telephone and email communications, TV programmes that you watch, websites visited, in reality anything and everything. As things stand a person can only be bugged if there are clear reasons to suspect that they are involved in serious criminal activities. But under the sleepwet anybody can be spied on in this way. Privacy is a human right, one which protects you from abuse by the authorities. Many people say that they have nothing to hide. That may well be so, but do you find it an attractive idea that intelligence services will have access to everything you've shared with others in recent years?

The importance of the sleepwet referendum

Introduced two years ago, the consultative referendum gives citizens the opportunity to return important decisions to government and Parliament for reconsideration. That's why the SP was enthusiastic when five young students took the initiative to gather support for a referendum on the sleepwet. The governing parties were considerably less enthusiastic about the initiative and as soon as it became clear that the students had sufficient support for a referendum to be held, these parties let it be known that they had no interest in attracting the public to their side. A high turnout and a clear 'no' would make ignoring our views more difficult.

Significant organisations are worried

If such a respected human rights organisation as Amnesty International is sounding the alarm, you know there's something amiss. Recently also institutions such as the Council of State, the Scientific Council for Government Policy and the Dutch Union of Journalists have expressed their concern. From lobbying watchdog Transparency International to the champion of a free internet Bits of Freedom; from the environmental protection group Milieudefensie to the television programme Radar; many organisations support a 'no' vote in the referendum on the sleepwet because of fears of a government which thinks it should have access even to your bedroom.

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