Dutch government agreement increasingly focuses on IT security

The coalition government in the Netherlands has agreed its plan for the next four years, with IT security prominent

After record setting negotiations, four parties have finally presented a coalition in the Netherlands.

There are a fair number of cyber security measures in the preliminary agreement, which will serve as a guideline for the government’s term for the coming years.

Following the elections of 15 March, three of the four larger parties in the Netherlands started coalition talks – a task that was viewed as difficult from the start.

With the Liberal Democrats and Christian Democrats as the largest parties, it would be difficult to reach consensus with the biggest winner Green Lefts and the centre-democratic Democrats 66 (D66).

After Green Lefts eventually dropped out of the coalition talks, a new attempt was made with the Christian Union, a painfully slow negotiation process that was concluded on 10 October with a coalition agreement.

As opposed to a few years ago, the new agreement has a rather large number of sections on IT security – pointed out by many in the industry by counting the use of the term “cyber”, which appeared eight times in the 70-page document that outlines the new government’s plans for the country over the next four years.

An important factor for adding so much IT to the agenda would be D66, the centre party with MP Kees Verhoeven as a well-known spokesperson for the digital agenda.

Law on intelligence and security-agencies

Of particular interest in the agreement are amendments to the controversial law on intelligence and security agencies, which will go fully into effect on 1 January 2018.

A group of petitioners recently successfully collected enough signatures to start a national referendum to try to rescind the law, which would give intelligence agencies the power to use dragnet methods for collecting information on many people in a single area. Most criticism of the law revolves around the supervision of an accountability taskforce, of which some is too vague.

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Even though the WiV will go into effect regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the new coalition has decided to evaluate the law within two years. If the supervision is indeed not enough, the law can be altered if necessary.

Use of zero days

Another controversial law, the Computer Criminality Act III, will also be slightly altered. Newly detailed plans in the agreement specifically mention the use of zero-days by law enforcement, and gives stricter rules for police and intelligence agencies to use these.

Specifically, zero-day-technology can only be bought and used if required for very specific cases. Also, vendors of such software will be screened by the Dutch national intelligence agency AIVD to make sure software is not also sold to “dubious regimes”. As with the WiV, this policy will now also be evaluated every two years, and law enforcement has to release statistics on the use of zero-days on a yearly basis.

A lot of these measures are seen as both good and bad by experts. Good, because a new evaluation clause has been added and several safeguards have been built in to prevent abuse. But privacy activists had hoped for more severe measures like scrapping parts of the laws entirely.

Investing in the country’s digital capacity

The coalition plans to spend an extra €95m to lay out an “ambitious cyber security agenda” and to increase the country’s digital capacity. The new funds will be divided among several departments like the Ministry of Security and Justice, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Interior.

An extra investment of €275m a year will be put into digital forces within the Dutch army, starting 2020, to “increase cyber capacity” in the armed forces.

A particularly increasing role will be designated for the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC), which advises the private sector on security practices and will be taking on a bigger role in preventing cyber crime and attacks in the future.

Also new is the intention to make “revenge porn” illegal, or the posting online of pornographic material of an ex as a way of revenge after a bad breakup. This would probably be broadened to any form of posting nudity online of other persons, though the agreement keeps the terms vague – most likely to allow for interpretation.

A particularly high-profile case of revenge porn dominated the Dutch technology news earlier this year, as a young girl sued Facebook for refusing to hand over information on who uploaded a video of her. The case got some international attention when Facebook, after a long legal battle, was ordered to hand the information over in 2015.

Storing of email addresses

Hidden away somewhere else in the agreement is the addition of email addresses in the Municipal Personal Records (the Basisregistratie Personen), with little more details given other than that email addresses will be stored “safely and encrypted”.

There's also a small line about increasing the security of DigiD, the digital login system Dutch citizens can use to login to government services to do their tax returns or view their student loans. There have been talks for years about replacing DigiD in favour of a new system called eID, which has been in an experimental phase for a while but has not been rolled out yet.

Internet of things security standards

For suppliers, the coalition plans to introduce security standards for internet of things appliances, though how these standards are to be implemented remains to be seen. This had been a longstanding wish of D66.

The agreement also mentions a possible import ban for appliances that don’t follow security practice, although was not detailed.

The coalition agreement is so far just an agreement the four main parties have set up, but it’s far from definite. The new coalition will be small with a majority of only one, with 76 seats in a house of 150.

The parties’ ideals are also far apart, so only a few dissidents in the coalition might mean a law could fail to pass.

However, after more than eight months of negotiations, Dutch MPs will probably not be looking for hard internal clashing. 

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