Netherlands considers hacking powers for police

The Netherlands government considers legislation to give police powers to hack into computers, install spyware and read emails

The government of the Netherlands is considering legislation that will give police powers to hack into computers, install spyware, read emails and destroy files.

The proposed bill is aimed at giving police greater powers to fight cyber crime. It even proposes allowing investigators to break into servers located abroad if they were being used to block services.

Dutch authorities are keen to clamp down on distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that use an ever-increasing array of techniques to block access to targeted online businesses and services.

Recently anti-spam organisation Spamhaus was targeted by unprecedented DDoS attacks. A Dutch national has been arrested in connection with the attacks.

If approved in its current form, the bill would also make it a crime to publish stolen data or for a suspect to refuse to decipher encrypted files during a police investigation, according to the BBC.

Unnecessary legislation

The Dutch government has emphasised that police powers would be subject to the approval of a judge. But critics say the proposed measures are unnecessary and create unnecessary vulnerabilities for citizens.

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Dutch digital rights organisation Bits of Freedom said the proposals ignore several alternative solutions.

“The police already has the necessary means to fight cyber crime, but fails to apply them, due to limited resources and knowledge,” the group said in a blog post.

The group believes cyber crime should be addressed by expanding the resources of the police rather than expanding police powers.

Bits of Freedom alleges that while hundreds of malware command and control (C&C) servers are located in the Netherlands, police are failing to take them offline, due to the lack of expertise and capacity.

“Combating cyber crime is important, but through this proposal we’re rushing into legislation which is unnecessary and raises serious safety risks for citizens,” the group said.

The proposed legislation is to be put to parliament by the end of the year, but the government has said the bill could be revised before then, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Assault on civil liberties

The UK government has also been forced to review its controversial draft Communications Data Bill – dubbed "the Snoopers’ Charter" because of opposition from rights groups.

The draft bill is aimed at making it easier for security and police services to spy on emails, phone calls and internet activity, but campaigners have widely criticised the proposed legislation as an assault on civil liberties.

In April, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the bill would not go ahead. 

“It certainly isn't going to happen with Liberal Democrats in government,” Clegg said in his weekly LBC radio programme, Call Clegg.

In February 2013, a report by the cross-party intelligence and security committee, appointed by the prime minister, said the bill needed more work.

It is thought Theresa May has withdrawn the legislation with significant changes in the hope of getting it included in the Queen's Speech on 8 May 2013.

However, Clegg said he will accept minor technical changes to how online activity is currently regulated, but no more.

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