20 March 2018

“There’s so much that can go wrong with this new law.”

Tobio and the anti-sleepwet campaign

Something felt wrong to the five students, last August, when they found out about the new version of the Intelligence and Security Services Act. The bill that the Dutch government was about to pass would allow intelligence services to collect extensive amounts of data of non-target citizens.

By Ines Bouacida
Picture: Luca van der Kamp

How could a law with such large implications on privacy not be discussed in the public arena?

The five students decided to start a petition asking for a referendum, which gathered 407,582 signatures, way more than the needed 300,000. The referendum about the Sleepwet (‘drag’ law in English) will take place on 21 March 2018.

Now, six months later, they are running the campaign for the ‘against’, Delete de Sleepwet. Tobio became one of them when one of his friends asked whether he would like to join her. He did not hesitate, “At first I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I noticed that I started to get a lot more opinions about a lot more things and I was already planning to get more into politics.”

The ‘Sleepwet’ (‘drag’ law in English), a new Dutch legislation that would allow security agencies to collect an extensive amount of data of citizens outside of official investigation of targets. Among the controversial dispositions of this law, massive surveillance of all automated devices of citizens that are not necessarily direct targets and the possibility to share this data with foreign intelligence services without reviewing it beforehand. The supporters of the law claim that such surveillance increases security and can prevent terrorist attacks. Opponents believe that the law violates fundamental freedoms such as the presumption of innocence.

Above all, Tobio joined the campaign because the law clashes with his principles. “There’s so much that can go wrong with this new law. It offers room to injustice. In this case, the right to privacy can be infringed upon without a reason other than the suspicion that someone else might be planning evil acts. I think that should not be allowed”. He also worries about breaches of patient confidentiality and the principle of source protection of journalists, as well as the ‘chilling effect’ on free speech that might result from the law.

He is now the ‘production supervisor’ of the organisation, which essentially means that he manages the logistics of the campaign. To compensate for their limited capacity, they rely on active citizens, who they supply with campaign materials to advocate against the Sleepwet at their level. “We really set up more of a grassroots level activism.”

Tobio admits that the campaign came with some struggle. For example, the young age of the organisation and its members was sometimes an obstacle in being taken seriously. “But just through believing in yourself and pressing on, you learn enough to become authoritative enough to talk about it. In the end, authority isn’t everything.”  Indeed, Delete de Sleepwet has managed to be a major actor of the campaign. They gained support from Amnesty and the big audience show Zondag met Lubach. The five of them succeeded in bringing the matter to the public attention. “We’ve managed to stir the discussion and keep it alive” tells Tobio.

Tobio is proud of the accomplishments of the campaign and believes it is the beginning of a bigger movement. “Privacy is not very mainstream, compared to feminism, environmentalism, LGBT rights, etc. These are all movements that have gained a lot of traction from very small beginnings. I already feel quite proud of the prospect that this might be happening now for privacy, no matter what the outcome of the referendum is.”

The referendum about the Sleepwet will take place in The Netherlands on Wednesday, March 21st. Justice and Peace supports the campaign to stop the Sleepwet on the grounds that the right to privacy and the rule of law in all matters, including those related to security, are paramount and often a prerequisite to guaranteeing fundamental freedoms such as the right to free expression. 

On Wednesday, vote ‘against’!