Proposed Dutch bill will allow cops to legally install spyware on private computers

cybercrimeIt sounds like the kind of logic you would expect from a 1990s technothriller. To defeat cybercrime and seemingly unstoppable hackers, the cops must become hackers themselves! A strange thought process, but it’s one that politicians in Holland are currently considering. According to a new bill proposal, Dutch authorities will be given greater powers to deal with cybercriminals, including the right to legally hack into private computers and install spyware without their owners’ knowledge.

The new proposals would give Dutch police the right not only to hack into computers and install spyware, but also read and destroy files on that computer. Cops would be allowed to hack into servers outside of the country, if they were believed to be involved in crimes affecting Dutch sites or servers. Lastly, suspects will no longer have the right to refuse to de-encrypt files that might incriminate them; as part of the new proposals, such refusal would in itself be a crime.

The proposed legislation is expected to be put in front of the Dutch parliament before the end of the year in a move to crack down on cybercrimes such as Distributed Denial of Service attacks and data theft. Reports also suggest that child pornography and terrorist acts were specifically called out in draft legislation as it currently stands.

Unsurprisingly, these changes are attracting much criticism from online privacy rights groups, who argue that it will give authorities too much power and increase the possibility of innocent citizens finding themselves under unjust surveillance. One such group, Bits of Freedom, even went so far as to suggest that the new laws would act against any effort to defeat cyber crime altogether, claiming that the Netherlands would be setting a bad example to other countries around the world.

“Countries, such as China, will use the powers as a justification for their own activities,” the group wrote in a blog post that also pointed to examples of similar laws in Germany being abused by criminals. “They will follow the Dutch example by allowing their police to use the same methods, including hacking abroad, in order to delete controversial data. Civilians will become the victims in an arms race between hacking governments.”

The push back against criticism has already started. Those supporting the new proposals said that police wouldn’t have indiscriminate powers to hack into computers or install spyware; instead, a judge would be required to approve of a request before any action could be taken legally, Dutch Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten explained.

The country’s government spokesman Wiebe Alkema said the bill is expected to undergo revisions before it is finally voted on by parliament. Hopefully, the debate on what powers police should have will shape the final legislature.

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