Wednesday, 02 January 2019 17:45

Privacy First New Year’s column

Writing a New Year’s Column about the state of affairs concerning the protection of everyone’s privacy weighs me down this year. With the exception of a few bright spots, privacy in the Netherlands and the rest of the world has greatly deteriorated. For a while it seemed that the revelations of Edward Snowden in 2013 about secret services tracking everyone’s online behavior would be a rude wake-up call for the world. It was thought that an increasing number of data breaches and a rising number of governments and companies getting hacked, would make people realize that large amounts of data stored centrally is not the solution. The Arab Spring in 2015 would bring about major change through the unprecedented use of (social) media.

The European Union successfully voted against the exchange of data relating to travel movements, paved the way for the current General Data Protection Regulation and seemed to become the shining alternative example under the guidance of Germany, a country known for its vigilance when it comes to privacy. Unfortunately, things turned out differently. Under the Obama administration, Snowden was shunned as a traitor and other whistleblowers were clamped down on harder than ever before. Julian Assange was forced into exile while murdering people with the use of drones and without any form of trial was implemented on a large scale. Extrajudicial killings with collateral damage... While the discussion was about waterboarding... Discussions on such ‘secondary topics’ have by now become commonplace in politics, and so has the framing and blaming of opponents in the polarized public debate (the focus is usually on the person rather than on the argument itself).

Looking back on 2018, Privacy First identifies a great number of areas where the breakdown of privacy is evident:

Government & privacy

In March, an advisory referendum in the Netherlands was held on the introduction of the so-called Tapping law. Immediately after that, the referendum was abrogated. This happened in a time of unprecedented technological possibilities to organize referendums in various ways in a shared democracy. That’s outrageous. The outcome of the referendum was not taken into account and the Tapping law was introduced just like that. Moreover, it turned out that all along, the Dutch Minister of the Interior had withheld an important report on the functioning of the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service.

Apparently this was nothing to worry about and occurred without any consequences. The recent report by the Dutch State Commission on the (re)introduction of referendums will likely end up in a drawer, not to be looked at again.

Fear of losing one’s role and the political mood of the day are all too important in a culture in which ‘professional politicians’ are afraid to make mistakes, but which is full of incidents nonetheless. One’s job or profession comes first, representing citizens comes second. Invariably, incidents are put under a magnifying glass in order to push through binding legislation with a broad scope. Without the review of compliance with guiding principles such as necessity, purpose limitation, subsidiarity and proportionality. There is an ever wider gap between government and citizens, who are not trusted but are expected to be fully transparent towards that self-same government. A government that time and again appears to be concealing matters from citizens. A government that is required by law to protect and promote privacy, but is itself still the most prominent privacy-violator.

The medical establishment & privacy

In this area things got really out of hand in 2018. Through various coordinated media offensives, the EU and the member states are trying to make us believe in the advantages of relinquishing our right to physical integrity and our humanity. Sharing biometric data with the United States continues unabatedly. We saw the police calling for compulsory DNA databases, compulsory vaccination programs, the use of smart medicines with microchips and the phasing out of alternative therapies. Furthermore, health insurance companies cautiously started to cover genetic testing and increasingly doing away with medical confidentiality, the Organ Donation Act was introduced and microchips implanted in humans (the cyborg as the highest ideal in Silicon Valley propaganda) became ever more popular.

How long before microchips become compulsory for all citizens? All (domestic) animals in the EU have already preceded us. And then there’s the Electronic Health Record, which was first rejected in the Dutch Senate but has reappeared on the minister’s agenda via a detour. Driven by commercial interests, it is being rammed down the throats of general practitioners while alternatives such as Whitebox are not taken seriously. The influence of Big Pharma through lobbying with government bodies and participating in government working groups is particularly acute. They closely cooperate with a few IT companies to realize their ideal of large and centralized networks and systems. It’s their year-end bonus and growth at the expense of our freedom and well-being.

Media & privacy

Naturally, we cannot overlook ‘fake news’. One of the premises for having privacy is being able to form your own opinion and respect and learn from the opinions of others. Furthermore, independent left and right-wing media are essential in a democratic constitutional State. It's their task to monitor the functioning of elected and unelected representatives in politics and in government. Journalists should be able to penetrate into the capillaries of society in order to produce local, national and global news.

Ever since free news gathering came about, it has been a challenge to obtain news based on facts. It’s not always easy to distinguish a press service, PR and propaganda from one another. In times of rapid technological changes and new opportunities, they should be continuously reviewed according to the principles of journalism. That’s nothing new. What is new, however, is that the European Union and our own Minister for the Interior, Kajsa Ollongren, feel they’re doing the right thing by outsourcing censorship to social media companies that are active on a global scale and have proven to be unreliable.

While Facebook and Google have to defend themselves in court for spreading fake news and censoring accounts, the governments hand over the monitoring task to them. The privacy violators and fake news distributors as the guardians of our privacy and journalism. That’s the world upside down. By so doing, this minister and this government undermine the constitutional State and show disdain for intelligent citizens. It’s time for a structural change in our media system, based on new technologies such as blockchain and the founding of a government media office whose task is to fund all media outlets through citizens’ contributions, taking into account the media’s scope and number of members. So that concerns all media, including the so-called alternative media, which should not be censored.

Finance & privacy

The erosion of one’s privacy increasingly manifests itself at a financial level too. The fact of the matter is, that the tax authorities already know in detail what the spending pattern of all companies and citizens looks like. Thanks to the Tapping Law, they can now pass on this information in real-time to the secret services (the General Intelligence and Security Service is watching along). Furthermore, a well-intended initiative such as PSD2 is being introduced in a wholly improvident and privacy-unfriendly way: basic conditions relating to the ownership of bank details (of citizens, account holders) are devoid of substance. Simple features such as selective sharing of banking details, for example according to the type of payment or time period, are not available. What’s more, payment details of third parties who have not given their consent, are sent along.

In the meantime, the ‘cash = criminal’ campaign goes on relentlessly. The right to cash and anonymous payment disappears, despite even the Dutch Central Bank now warning that the role of cash is crucial to our society. Privacy First has raised its opinion on this topic already in 2016 during a public debate. The latest development in this regard is the further linking of information through Big Data and profiling by debt-collecting agencies and public authorities. Excluding citizens from the electronic monetary system as a new form of punishment instead of letting them pay fines is a not so distant prospect. In this regard, a lot of experimentation is going on in China and there have been calls in Europe to move in the same direction, supposedly in order to fight terrorism. In other words, in the future it will become increasingly difficult to raise your voice and organize against abuse of power by governments and companies: from on high it takes only the press of a button and you may no longer be able to withdraw cash, travel or carry out online activities. In which case you have become an electronic outcast, banished from society.

Public domain & privacy

In 2018, privacy in public space has all but improved. Whereas 20 years ago, the Netherlands was deemed too small to require everyone out on the streets to be able to identify themselves, by now, all governments and municipalities in Europe are developing ‘smart city’ concepts. If you ask what the benefits and use of a smart city are (beyond the permanent supervision of citizens), proponents will say something vague about traffic problems and that the 'killer applications' will become visible only once the network of beacons is in place. In other words, there are absolutely no solid figures which would justify the necessity, subsidiarity and proportionality of smart cities. And that’s not even taking basic civil rights such as privacy into consideration.

Just to give a few examples:

  • ANPR legislation applies from 1 January 2019 (all travel movements on public roads will be stored in a centralized police database for four weeks)
  • A database consisting of all travel movements and stays of European citizens and toll rates as per 2023
  • Emergency chips in every vehicle with a two-way communication feature (better known as spyware) as per 1 January 2019
  • Cameras and two-way communication in public space, built into the lampposts among other objects as part of smart city projects
  • A decision to introduce additional cameras in public transport as per 2019
  • The introduction of Smart Cities and the introduction of unlimited beacons (doesn’t it sound so much better than electronic concentration camp posts?)
  • Linking together all traffic centers and control rooms (including those of security companies operating on the private market)
  • Citizens are permanently monitored by invisible and unknown eyes.

Private domain & privacy

It’s well known that governments and companies are keen to take a peek in our homes, but the extent to which this was being advanced last year, was outside of all proportion. Let’s start with energy companies, who foist compulsory smart meters on citizens. By way of ‘appointment to install a smart meter’, which you didn’t ask for, it’s almost impossible to stay clear of red tape. After several cancellations on my part and phone calls to energy provider Nuon, they simply continued to push forward. I still don’t have a smart meter and it will stay like that.

Once again Silicon Valley featured prominently in the news in 2018. Unelected dictatorial executives who are no less powerful than many a nation state, promote their utopias as trendy and modern among citizens. Self-driving cars take the autonomy and joy away from citizens (the number of accidents is very small considering the millions of cars on the road each day), while even children can tell that a hybrid approach is the only option. The implementation of smart speakers by these social media companies is downright spooky. By bringing smart toys onto the market, toy manufacturers equally respond to the needs that we all seem to have. We can all too readily guess what these developments will mean for our privacy. The manipulation of facts and images as well as distortion, will starkly increase.

Children & privacy

Children and youths represent the future and nothing of the above bodes well for them. Screen addiction is sharply on the rise and as children are being raised amidst propaganda and fake news, much more attention should go out to forming one’s own opinion and taking responsibility. Centralized pupil monitoring systems are introduced indifferently in the education system, information is exchanged with parents and not having interactive whiteboards and Ipads in the classroom has become unthinkable. The first thing children see every single day, is a screen with Google on it... Big Brother.

Dependence on the internet and social media results in impulsive behaviour among children, exposes them to the madness of the day and affects their historical awareness and ability to discern underlying links. The way of thinking at universities is becoming increasingly one-sided and undesirable views are marginalized. The causes of problems are not examined, books are not read though there is certainly no lack of opinions. It’s all about making your voice heard within the limits of self-censorship that’s in force in order to prevent becoming the odd one out in the group. The same pattern can be identified when it comes to forming opinions in politics, where discussing various issues based on facts seems no longer possible. Not to mention that the opinions of citizens are considered irrelevant by our politicians. Good quality education focused on forming opinions and on creating self-reflective minds instead of a robot-way of thinking, is essential for the development of a healthy democracy.

Are there any positive developments?

It's no easy task to identify any positive developments in the field of privacy. The fact is that the introduction of the GDPR and the corresponding option to impose fines has brought privacy more sharply into focus among companies and citizens than the revelations of Snowden have been able to do. The danger of the GDPR, however, is that it narrows down privacy to data protection and administrative red tape.

Another positive development is the growing number of (as of yet small) initiatives whereby companies and governments consider privacy protection as a business or PR opportunity. This is proved by the number of participants in the 2019 Dutch Privacy Awards. Recurring themes are means of anonymous communication (email, search engines, browsers), possible alternatives to social networks (messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) on the basis of subscriptions, blockchain technology and privacy by design projects by large organizations and companies.

Privacy First has teamed up with a few top quality pro bono attorneys who are prepared to represent us in court. However, judges are reluctant to go off the beaten track and come up with progressive rulings in cases such as those concerning number plate parking, average speed checks, Automatic Number Plate Recognition, the Tapping Law, etc. For years, Privacy First has been suffering from a lack of funding. Many of those who sympathize with us, find the topic of privacy a bit eerie. They support us morally but don’t dare to make a donation. After all, you draw attention to yourself when you’re concerned with issues such as privacy. That’s how bad things have become; fear and self-censorship... two bad counsellors! It’s high time for a government that seriously deals with privacy issues.

Constitutional reform should urgently be placed on the agenda

Privacy First is a great proponent of constitutional reform (see our 2017 New Year’s column about Shared Democracy), based on the principles of the democratic constitutional State and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Our democracy is only 150 years old and should be adapted to this current day and age. This means that the structure of the EU should be changed. Citizens should take on a central and active role. Government policies should focus on technological developments in order to reinforce democracy and formulate a response to the concentration of power of multinational companies.

Privacy First argues that the establishment of a Ministry of Technology has the highest priority in order to be able to stay up to date with the rapid developments in this field and produce adequate policies accordingly. It should live up to the standards of the ECHR and the Dutch Constitution and avoid becoming a victim of the increasing lobbying efforts in this sector. Moreover, it is time for a Minister of IT & Privacy who stays up to date on all developments and acts with sufficient powers and in accordance with the review of a Constitutional Court.

The protection of citizens’ privacy should be facilitated and there should be privacy-friendly alternatives for current services by technology companies. For 2019, Privacy First has a few tips for ordinary citizens:

  • Watch out for and stay away from ‘smart’ initiatives on the basis of Big Data and profiling!
  • Keep an eye on the ‘cash = criminal’ campaign. Make at least 50% of your payments anonymously in cash.
  • Be cautious when communicating through Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Look for or develop new platforms based on Quantum AI encryption and use alternative browsers (TOR), networks (VPN) and search engines (Startpage).
  • Be careful when it comes to medical data and physical integrity. Use your right for there to be no exchange of medical data as long as initiatives such as Whitebox are not used.
  • Be aware of your right to stay anonymous, at home and in public space. Campaign against toll payment, microchips in number plates, ANPR and number plate parking.
  • Be aware of your legal rights to bring lawsuits, for example against personalized waste disposal passes, camera surveillance, etc.
  • Watch out for ‘smart’ meters, speakers, toys and other objects in the house connected to the internet. Purchase only privacy by design solutions with privacy enhanced technology!

The Netherlands and Europe as guiding nations in the field of privacy, with groundbreaking initiatives and solutions for apparent contradictions concerning privacy and security issues - that’s Privacy First's aim. There’s still a long way to go, however, and we’re being blown off course ever more. That’s due in part because a comprehensive vision on our society and a democracy 3.0 is lacking. So we continue to drift rudderless, ending up in the big manipulation machine of large companies one step at a time. We need many more yellow vests before things change. Privacy First would like to contribute to shaping and promoting a comprehensive, positive vision for the future. A future based on the principles that our society was built on and the need for greater freedom, with all the inevitable restrictions this entails. We will have to do it together. Please support Privacy First actively with a generous donation for your own freedom and that of your children in 2019!

To an open and free society! I wish everyone a lot of privacy in 2019 and beyond!

Bas Filippini, Privacy First chairman

Published in Columns

Privacy First New Year’s column

Looking back on 2016, Privacy First perceives a renewed attack on our democratic constitutional State from within. Incident-driven politics based on the everyday humdrum prevails and the Dutch government’s frenzy efforts to control the masses is relentless, arrogant and driven by industry and political lobbying. The democratic principles of our constitutional State are being lost out of sight ever more while the reversion of legal principles has become commonplace. Every (potential) attack thus becomes an attack on our civil rights.

Current constitutional State unable to defend itself

Barely a single day has gone past in the current mediacracy and governors without any historical or cultural awareness hand us, our children and our future over to a new electronic dictatorship fenced off by 4G masts. Citizens who autonomously seek to inform themselves have become ‘populists that spread fake news’. It’s not just the government that has lost its way, but so have the mainstream media, so it seems. The model characterized by fear, hate and control adopted by many authoritarian states headed by a strong leader is increasingly seen as the way to go.

Privacy First has said it before but will reiterate: we are of the opinion that State terrorists who continuously change legislation restricting civil liberties are ultimately much more harmful to our society than a single ‘street terrorist’, however terrible and shocking an attack is for those directly involved. The galling thing is that our constitutional State cannot adequately defend itself against the erosion of democratic principles from within: among other things, there is a lack of independent review of our Constitution. Therefore we are very happy that the European Court of Justice has recently ruled all forms of trawl net technology unlawful in advance. A great verdict that has far-reaching consequences for the State terrorists among our politicians and civil servants. A clear line in the sand.

Our democratic constitutional State came into existence out of the 19th century way of thinking and will have to be reshaped through a public debate, provided this is done taking into account the basic principles of living together - a human experience that goes back thousands of years. Love, trust en freedom are fundamental pillars. Privacy First discerns a number of changes over the past 150 years to which our constitutional State has no adequate answer, if any answer at all. These changes will have to be integrated into a newly structured democratic constitutional State which will have to be partly parliamentary and partly shared. In other words: the democratic foundation is there, but will have to be adapted to the desires and developments of our time.

Towards a Shared Democracy: adjusting parliamentary democracy to our present time

Privacy First calls on (and challenges, if necessary) every Dutch citizen to participate in a broad public discussion in order to shape a democracy 3.0. After Athens (1.0) and our parliamentary democracy from the 19th century onwards (2.0), in our eyes it’s time for the concept of a Shared Democracy (3.0), which is both a disruptive way of thinking as well as a social model for which we identify seven big drivers that help adjust our current 19th century system. Privacy First notices that these seven drivers are currently undermining our model from the inside and the outside. But by thinking differently, one will find that these pillars also offer an opportunity to move towards a new form for the future: the so-called Shared Democracy.

1. Changing role of the media; towards a mediacracy

Originally, in the 19th century model, the media didn’t yet have the scale and level of outreach today’s media have. The influence of the media has become large to the extent it will have to be one of the pillars of the future Shared Democracy.

2. Changing role of citizens

The enormous financial and social emancipation, the elevated level of education and the individualization of citizens is currently leading to huge tensions in the democracy of parliamentary representation. As part of the old way of thinking, citizens are still regarded as an unassertive, inferior, necessary evil. However, citizens want to have decision-making power on numerous issues and this – supported by the newest technologies and means of communication - will have to be structurally implemented in the Shared Democracy on the basis of various structures of representation and participatory leadership based on personal responsibility, an area in which politics and the government are still falling far behind in their relationship with citizens.

3. Scientific, technological and information revolution

These revolutions create new opportunities and offer an almost real-time insight in the developments and events within society. Moreover, the internet and associated infrastructures enable completely new forms of exchange and marketplaces of ideas and decisions. This happens on a worldwide scale between like-minded people and people who hold different views. Where supply and demand are ill-aligned, new services that have a disruptive effect on old structures pop up. Think of the clear imbalance between citizens and politics. A solution for that problem can be found in completely new and invigorating systems and structures, set up with an open and free attitude, with privacy by design enshrined in legislation and with the application of advanced technology - all elements that distinguishes the Shared Democracy.

4. Unrestrained proliferation of public authorities

The house is ready to move into, but the contractor keeps coming back every day to see whether there are still tasks to be done... likewise our government exerts its influence on our daily life and on today’s economy. The unrestrained proliferation of public authorities has got to stop immediately and the government has to be brought back to normal proportions, in line with a standard that has yet to be established. By now, citizens serve the government instead of the other way around. The power of (central) public authorities is no longer commensurate with those of individual citizens. A key trait of the Shared Democracy will be the size, power and scope of the government.

5. Lifelong professional politicians

Another thing the founders of the 19th century model didn’t take into account (despite the seperation of powers) is the fact that many current (national) representatives are fulltime politicians, some of whom carry out public sector activities quite directly related to their political function. Particularly these latter ones have lost all connection to society and virtually live off taxpayers’ money without any risks. In the Shared Democracy we envisage, we advocate that representatives of citizens make clear choices and are in favour of all possible mixed forms of citizens and representatives in order to create a much larger engagement and responsibility among individual citizens when it comes to being active politically.

6. Financial sector, upscaling and mass control

The centralization and management of financial flows disconnected from the underlying value, erodes both the economy and society. The human dimension is disappearing into the background in upscaling and efficiency models dominated by financial flows. By introducing mantras such as ‘cash is criminal’, paying anonymously is being phased out while bank runs that could endanger and destabilize the system are being prevented. Here too, the web continually gets tighter around citizens and money no longer belongs to them, but to banks and the government. With a view to the future and on the basis of current and future technological possibilities, in the Shared Democracy, ownership relationships and the right to anonymous means of payment will have to be firmly embedded in law.

7. Supranational elite of individuals and companies

One of the effects of globalization is the rise of a large group of supranational companies and individuals that are disconnected from their nation-states and societies, benefitting from the rights they have but not fulfilling the duties that society equally brings along. Now that information and power are concentrated within a few very large, global conglomerates, there are many financial corporations and companies that have become larger than nation-states. The intransparent power of lobbygroups backing these conglomerates thrives under the old, authoritarian pyramid structure of centralized political representation. In the Shared Democracy, special attention will have to go out to democratic shaping and modelling on all levels, while the centralized and decentralized power structures have to be continually in balance and be measurable with the most advanced technology.

How will the Shared Democracy deal with all this? How much more freedom are we prepared to give up for the sake of (false) security? 100% security = 0% freedom. How are we going to restructure our society and democratic system in order to hold on to our principles with the seven drivers of development in mind? And on which scale are we willing to do so?

To better define these questions and look for answers, Privacy First will organize a New Year's Reception on 19 January 2017, at 7:30 pm in the Volkshotel in Amsterdam. The reception (in Dutch) will revolve around the Shared Democracy.

Privacy First encourages everyone to contribute to this new movement towards a Shared Democracy in an open and free debate on all available communication channels!

Bas Filippini
Privacy First Foundation chairman

Published in Columns
Wednesday, 23 December 2015 15:38

From street terrorism to State terrorism?

Christmas column by Bas Filippini,
Chairman of the Privacy First Foundation 

Principles of our democratic constitutional State are still very relevant 

‘‘Your choice in a free society’’ is the slogan of the Privacy First Foundation. Privacy First has defined its principles on the basis of universal human rights and our Dutch Constitution and is reputed for professional and, if necessary, legal action in line with our free constitutional State. The mere fact that Privacy First exists, means that in recent years the aforementioned principles have come under increasing pressure. We base our (legal) actions and judgements on thorough fact-finding, to the extent possible in our working area.

‘The Netherlands as a secure global pioneer in the field of privacy’, that’s our motto. This country should also serve as an example of how to use technology whilst maintaining the principles of our open and free society. This can be achieved through legislative, executive and IT infrastructures, starting from privacy by design and making use of privacy enhanced technology.

Whereas the industrial revolution has environmental pollution as a negative side effect, the information revolution has the ‘pollution of privacy and freedom’ as an unwanted side effect.

Therefore, the question is how to preserve the basic principles of our democratic constitutional State and how to support new structures and services towards the future. As far as we’re concerned, these basic principles are neither negotiable nor exchangeable. Yet time and again we see the same incident-driven politics based on the misconceptions of the day strike at times when the constitutional State is at its most vulnerable and cannot defend itself against the emotional tide of the moment.

Paris as yet another excuse to pull through ‘new’ laws

Various politicians feed on the attacks in Paris and tumble over one another to express Orwellian macho talk, taking things further and further in legislative proposals or in emotional speeches characterized by belligerence and rhetoric. And it’s always so predictable: further restraining existing freedoms of all citizens instead of focusing further on the group of adolescents (on average, terrorist attackers are between 18 and 30 years old) that intelligence agencies already have in sight. Instead of having a discussion about how intelligence agencies can more effectively tackle the already defined group that needs to be monitored and take preventive measures in the communication with and education of this target group, the focus too easily shifts to familiar affairs whereby necessity, proportionality and subsidiarity are hard to find.

So in the meanwhile we’ve witnessed the prolonged state of emergency in France, the far reaching extension of powers of the police, the judiciary and intelligence services (also to the detriment of innocent citizens), extra controls in public space, the retention of passenger data, etc., etc. All this apparently for legitimate reasons in the heat of the moment, but it will be disastrous for our freedom both in the short as well as in the long run. In this respect the blurring definition of the term ‘terrorism’ is striking. Privacy First focuses on government powers in relation to the presumption of innocence that citizens have. We’re in favour of applying special powers in dealing with citizens who are under reasonable suspicion of criminal offences and violate the rights of others with their hate and violence. In fact, that’s exactly what the law says. Let’s first implement this properly, instead of introducing legislative proposals that throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The governments is committed to impossible 100 per cent security solutions

What often strikes me in conversations with civil servants is the idea that the government should provide 100 per cent solutions for citizens and applies a risk exclusion principle. This leads to a great deal of compartmentalization and paralyzation when it comes to possible government solutions in the area of security. Technology-based quick fixes are adhered to by default, without properly analyzing the cause of problems and looking at the implementation of existing legislation.

The government way of thinking is separate from citizens, who are not trusted in having legal capacity and are regarded as a necessary evil, as troublesome and as inconvenient in the performance of the government’s tasks. The idea that the government, serving its citizens, should offer as high a percentage as possible but certainly not a 100 per cent security (the final 10 per cent are very costly on the one hand and suffocating for society on the other) is not commonly shared. No civil servant and no politician is prepared to introduce policies to maintain an open society today (and 50 years from now) that entail any risk factors. However, in reality there will always be risks in an open society and it should be noted that a society is not a matter of course but something we should treat with great care.

Here in the Netherlands we’ve seen other forms of government before: from rule by royal decree to a bourgeoisie society and an actual war dictatorship. Every time we chose not to like these forms of society. What could possibly be a reason to be willing to go back to any of these forms and give up our freedoms instead of increasing them and enforcing them with technology? Especially in a society that has high levels of education and wherein citizens show to be perfectly able to take their own decisions on various issues. We hire the government and politics as our representatives, not the other way around. However, we’re now put up with a government that doesn’t trust us, is only prepared to deliver information on the basis of FOIA requests and requires us to hand over all information and communications about us and our deepest private lives as if we were prima facie suspects. That puts everything back to front and to me it embodies a one way trip to North Korea. You’ll be more than welcome there!

Political lobby of the industry

The industry’s persistence to overload the government and citizens with ICT solutions is unprecedented. Again and again here in the Netherlands and in Silicon Valley the same companies pop up that want to secure their Christmas bonus by marketing their products in exchange for our freedom. We’re talking about various electronic health records like the Child record and the Orwellian and centralized electronic patient record, the all-encompassing System Risk-Indication database, travel and residency records, road pricing, chips in number plates and cars, so-called automated guided vehicles (including illegal data collection by car manufacturers), number plate parking, automatic number plate recognition cameras, facial recognition in public space and counter-hacking by government agencies while voting computers are back on the agenda. Big Data, the Internet of things, the list goes on.

With huge budgets these companies promote these allegedly smart solutions, without caring about their dangers for our freedom. It’s alienating to see that the reversal of legal principles is creeping in and is being supported by various government and industry mantras. It’s as if a parasitic wasp erodes civil liberties: the outside looks intact but the inside is already empty and rotten.

From street terrorism to State terrorism

As indicated above, the information revolution leads to the restriction of freedom. It’s imperative to realize that after 4000 years of struggle, development and evolution we have come to our refined form of society and principles that are (relatively) universal for every free citizen. Just as most of us are born out of love, freedom and trust, to me these are also the best principles with which to build a society. We’re all too familiar with societies founded on hate, fear and government control and we have renounced them not so long ago as disastrous and exceptionally unpleasant. At the expense of many sacrifices and lives these principles have been enshrined in treaties, charters and constitutions and are therefore non-negotiable.

It’s high time to continue to act on the basis of these principles and make policy implementation and technology subordinate to this, taking into account the people’s needs and their own responsibility. In my eyes, a civil servant in the service of the people who places security above everything else, is nothing more than a State terrorist or a white collar terrorist who in the long term causes much more damage to our constitutional State and freedom than a so called street terrorist. The government and industry should have an immediate integrity discussion about this, after which clear codes can be introduced for privacy-sustainable governing and entrepreneurship.

Towards a secure global pioneer in the field of privacy

Privacy First would like to see government and industry take their own responsibility in protecting and promoting the personal freedom of citizens and in so doing use a 80/20 rule as far as security is concerned. By focusing on risk groups a lot of money and misery can be saved. Exceptions prove the rule, which in this case is a free and democratic constitutional State and not the other way around. Say yes to a free and secure Netherlands as a global pioneer in the field of privacy!

Published in Columns

Column by Bas Filippini,
Privacy First chairman 

The Dutch police is currently running a pilot with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-chips in license plates. According to an internal report, fraud with license plates is alleged to be a big problem. A chip which is compulsory for every motorist and which can be read from a distance through a 'read-out portal' at all times on public roads, would supposedly be THE solution. However, Privacy First perceives the setting up of a national control system to track all movements in public space of all 17 million Dutch citizens as a great danger to society. Privacy First finds a compulsory spychip disproportional and unfit for a decent democracy under the rule of law.

A comprehensive electronic control system

Enquiries by Privacy First reveal that the license plate chip is part of a much larger plan to equip all roads in the Netherlands with so-called 'portals' with measurement equipment. These portals would record all cars 24 hours a day and thus the movements of all 17 million citizens in public space. The Dutch Bicycle and Automobile Industry (RAI) Association strongly recommends the use of such a chip in a recently leaked report. Moreover, new regulations, which make chips inside cars compulsory alongside license plate chips, are being prepared by European Parliament. According to the basic concept, over 60 details would be recorded and stored in the European database EUCARIS. The chip should enable immobilizers as well as a digital license plate database, online license plate requests, a European general periodical car inspection and could eventually grow into a European system for travel and residence rights and taxes.

For the time being, the project is traded as a solution for identity fraud and license plate related crimes in order to get citizens 'aboard'. However, in Privacy First's eyes the system is yet another attempt to be able to record citizens in public space, either through the public transport chip card or chips in license plates and/or cars. A license plate chip for all citizens as if it were an ankle bracelet is a dogged principle in the current control oriented way of thinking by the Dutch government and now the European Parliament, too. Which role do Dutch lobbyists outside Dutch parliament play in order to introduce these chips from Dutch manufacturer NXP in all European license plates on the basis of a Europe measure, or, in other words, by way of a political U-turn? Privacy First thinks it's high time for some serious journalistic research into this.

Current license plate issues: facts or suggestions?

Upon enquiry into the real problem, none of the authorities have been able to provide any clarity about the presupposed 40,000 cases of fraud with license plates. Even though it's important for citizens to know if there's a problem, and how substantial this problem is, the figure cannot be confirmed. Therefore, the question is raised whether it's legally justified to introduce such a system. Even in case of an estimated 40,000 license plates (a mere 0.5 per mil of the total) it's dubious whether the privacy of the entire society should be sacrificed. It's also altogether unclear how high the costs of such a system would be, and how high the gains in respect of the current alleged costs of identity fraud and license plate related crimes.

Are there no alternative solutions to 'the problem'? From a recent letter from the Dutch minister of Security and Justice, Ard van der Steur, it emerges that fraud with license plates occurs less frequently already due to measures such as the controlled online management and issuing and returning of license plates, requirements for recognized manufacturers and laminators (laminate code) as well as the obligation to report stolen or lost blank plates or license plates that have not yet been issued. Moreover, in 2000, the system of duplicate codes on license plates was introduced. Furthermore, faulty license plates are entered in the database for Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) control.

Whether it concerns black boxes, chips for theft prevention in (as of yet only more expensive) cars, eCall for crash analyses (also manufactured by NXP), dashcams, speed checks or the network of ANPR cameras, time and again Privacy First sees a pattern whereby the Dutch government tries to turn the complete recording of travel behaviour of citizens into reality. Now we're about to witness a spychip in every license plate and in every car, through undemocratic EU law – the ICT industry lobbied a number of MEPs in order to circumvent national parliaments – and the central database EUCARIS.

Reasons to opt for free choice and very selective use of a passive chip

Privacy First sees many reasons to not give a control infrastructure the go-ahead:
A lack of necessity due to the absence of concrete figures regarding the 'alleged problem' and the availability of alternative solution-paths and measures, some of which have already been introduced.
A complete lack of a cost-benefit analysis of a control infrastructure. The only one benefitting from the system in the short term is the chip manufacturer: in the future, chip manufacturer NXP will spy on you alongside the NSA! Under American surveillance legislation that is.
The alleged problem is not commensurate with the measure, which is entirely disproportional and in breach of Article 8 ECHR. In the fight against identity fraud with license plates, a passive registration chip suffices and citizens should be able to choose freely whether or not they want to have a RFID license plate.
The system will enable real-time identification, monitoring and recording of all citizens, including lawyers, journalists, politicians, activists – a very serious privacy infringement
• A central infrastructure and central data storage are particularly susceptible to fraud. If criminals get access to databases containing all the travel and residency data of cars and people in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe, all floodgates will be opened.
• There is a risk of function creep. The tax authorities, police and other law enforcement agencies already have real-time access to systems that have been intended for entirely different purposes, think of systems related to car parks and speed checks.
• Eventually a system like that could be deployed to burden citizens even more in various ways, such as road pricing and other travel & residency taxes and sanction systems, something that is perhaps the underlying thought of this draconian measure. Meanwhile ANPR cameras are used to fine drivers of old diesel cars in inner cities. What's next?
• Permanently recording citizens in public space will lead to self-censorship and an 'apology society' in which citizens have to have an alibi all time to explain what they were doing in a given location and why they were there. Citizens are already pestered by the police and authorities as a result of their travel behaviour – complaints about this reach Privacy First ever more often.
• Finally, an infrastructure like this affects our constitutional democracy by inverting the legal principle that there should be a reasonable suspicion of a criminal offence to be tracked: every citizen would be considered a potential suspect and would be continuously spied on.

An over-zealous control oriented way of thinking by a distrustful government

The policies of the Dutch government are tenaciously moving in one direction only. New technological gadgets are mandatorily deployed to record all citizens and central systems are subsequently linked together. After that, a flawed law and its implementation are being proposed and finally there are talks with privacy organizations and guileless citizens, who are left behind in an electronic prison. Nowadays Big Data, data mining and profiling are the magic words in all government departments. It all concerns 'OPD' (other people's data) anyway, very convenient indeed. In this case we're talking about equipping each car with three chips and implementing and maintaining a comprehensive ICT network on all roads, a market potentially worth billions of euros. And in the relationship that is then being formed between the public and the government, the latter is a distrustful partner that wants to know who the former is communicating with and what its travel movements look like. It also wants to dispose of systems with which errors can be checked, but in the worst case, it deals carelessly with all the data it collects. Such a relation, based on mistrust, certainly isn't sustainable.

The Netherlands, a global pioneer in the field of privacy

Time and again people forget: it's the legitimate task of the government to protect and promote the privacy of its citizens! Privacy First wants the Netherlands to become a global pioneer in the field of privacy with advanced technologies, based on the principles of our constitutional democracy and independent of the misconceptions of the day and our incident-driven political system. After all, this is about a fundamental turnaround in the relationship with the public, something Privacy First is opposed to. We therefore challenge politics, industry and science to turn the Netherlands into THE nation that is at the vanguard of privacy matters while maintaining security, and not the other way around!

Published in Columns
Friday, 14 June 2013 16:59

Big Brother as a new form of society?

Shocking news reached us last week from the United States regarding the eavesdropping scandal that involves the US government. The digital state terrorism under Obama Bin Laden (the difference is really just a mere letter) has only been further institutionalized in his terms of office and undermines the basis of the democratic constitutional state inside and outside of America. Everyone’s a suspect, massive data storage and then continuous, real-time profiling of every citizen, in particular the citizens and organizations the governments dislikes. ‘’Just trust us, we don’t actually trust you.’’ One-sided transparency, citizens without any form of privacy, the government shielded by so-called state security protocols and always at war with an unknown enemy, so ‘’everything is permissible‘’.

  • A democracy is characterized by administrative transparency and respect for the private life of citizens. Within a dictatorship things are exactly the other way around: transparency of private life and administrative secrecy are the norm. To what extent is America still democratic? Over there whistleblowers that represent fundamental rights and real patriots in the true sense of the word are portrayed as terrorists.
  • 29-year old Edward Snowden is committed to his own principles and is now forced to seek asylum far away from the United States.
  • After having revealed abuses by that same government, Julian Assange felt the need to flee to the Ecuadorian embassy in London where, by now, he’s been holed up for over a year.
  • Where are the days when such people got the credit they deserved? Not that long ago, during the Watergate Scandal, the American president had to resign. It also brings to mind George Orwell’s newspeak: simply turning everything around, denying, lying, deceiving. So here we have it: the government that sold "change" and "hope" to its own people and the world.

A few hopeful changes à la Obama:

  • Guantanamo Bay is still open and its prisoners have been held there for years without any form of fair trial and with no way out; secret courts are the norm.
  • Everywhere in the world, unwanted citizens and innocent citizens are pre-emptively eliminated without any form of trial, judicial process or evidence through the use of drones, which additionally violates the sovereign airspace of foreign states. In case a drone crashes, instead of apologizing for violating international law, the drone is ordered back in no uncertain terms.
  • By now hundreds of pilots are trained to fly drones and to kill "suspects" in a computer game-like way.
  • Echelon, Carnivore and other data-collection programs are now complemented by PRISM, in order to be able to create a "digital life file" of every citizen, used to analyze the past, the present and possibly future behavior and ways of thinking. In case these ways of thinking are not to the government’s liking, the words "terrorist" and "part of a criminal organization" are immediately proclaimed and a profiling program commenced. This shameless infringement of the right to a private life takes place under the guise of terrorism prevention.
  • Whereas in the past citizens under reasonable suspicion of a crime could be tracked on the basis of a judicial decision and whereas control was specifically aimed at foreigners in the home country, nowadays it’s every citizen’s turn without judicial interference and in the US, already 5 million officials of the State have access to such classified information. And the target within PRISM very clearly is the entire world and all (forms of) communication. Welcome to the new world! Data macht frei!
  • Now the Obama administration is in the possession of these data, they are directly abused as well, for example by not handing out permits or by carrying out extra tax controls on dissenting groups. For years Privacy First has warned of function creep when it comes to this kind of legislation and the execution thereof. In this respect the Patriot Act is the least patriotic law (newspeak) since the coming into existence of the US and is applied all the time to be infinitely abused by the government, also outside of the US.

This was just a brief overview of cases that have come to the surface. Privacy First is especially bothered by the lack of self-reflection and self-control that governments display. "Is it technically possible? Then let’s do it!"

Instead of having a democratic discussion and offering a content-related reaction including apologies, or instead of the people responsible resigning, an immediate attack is launched and a sideway discussion started, exactly similar to the Wikileaks Affair:  

  • Everything is inverted, the whistleblowers are terrorists and privacy fetishists who are actually weak and sensitive, characteristics that need to be eliminated immediately.
  • Immediately diverting the question away from the topic and focussing on the mistakes made within the organization with the aim to eliminate whistleblowers; how can it be these whistleblowers have not been detected earlier?
  • The subsequent phase is the stigmatization of the whistleblower, saying that more resolute action is needed to discourage other intelligent people with common sense and a democratic vision to undertake any such actions.
  • After that comes the stigmatization of those holding different views and the press; the disgraceful free press that dares to publish such information: there has already been a call to prosecute any press that collaborates with whistleblowers. An immediate counter attack and you don’t need to talk about the content, a very easy option!
  • It is allowed by law through the Patriot Act! Instead of calling this law into question when true patriots that are committed to principles reveal abuses.
  • Shamelessly asserting that nothing’s going on when information is shared without the permission of citizens from other countries, with the argument that it’s convenient and that the government knows what is good for citizens. And all of this from a line of thinking dominated by fear, without a privacy-friendly alternative.

Time and again the government evades the real debate about reinforcing the fundamental principles of the democratic society on the basis of faith, about stimulating individual responsibility of citizens and, where necessary, about modifying the system with technology in order to improve the democratic process. The US government, like many other governments, has totally gone out of its mind and has forgotten it serves the interests of its citizens and the democratic fundamental principles instead of the other way around.

Privacy First makes a call to all pressure groups and government institutions to have a broad debate in society about this; in this digital age we are in need of a concrete alternative for the organization of a democratic society in order to stop the explosive growth of government terror that targets innocent and defenceless citizens. In this way Western democracies rapidly become totalitarian dictatorships while our society turns into an "electronic concentration camp".

→ What difference is there still between a dictatorship or a single-party state like China and the big leader of the free Western world, the US? That they are capitalistic societies?

→ What meaning does the message of progress, faith and love still have on a model of society that offers a hopeful future to the fully participating citizen?

At the end of the day scaling up, distancing of citizens, negative messages on the basis of fear, suspicion and black and white thinking will not lead to a more pleasant society. Nevertheless these are everyday occurrences since 9/11. A few years ago Privacy First already decided to choose for a free and inspiring society that had been fought for for 2000 years and to draw a line in the sand for citizens. We pay tribute to the whistleblowers! Who’s next?

Bas Filippini,
Chairman of the Privacy First Foundation

Published in Columns
These days, of all human rights the right to privacy finds itself under the most pressure. Therefore, it is of great importance that the government, being the largest privacy violator, is tightly controlled by means of proper legislation. With good checks & balances, for the government itself as well as for monitoring possible privacy violators such as Microsoft, Google, Apple and large ICT companies like Cisco and Intergraph that set up entire electronic surveillance infrastructures in China.

Under the ‘principle of security’, current Western democracies are increasingly being led by suspicion, hate and control instead of the principles of trust, love and freedom. And all of this to protect those last three mentioned? In the view of Privacy First, the line in the sand has already been drawn in 2001. Under the guise of security our legislation has been heavily modified to the disadvantage of individual citizens and through function creep the boundaries of the application of this legislation are continuously being stretched. Will loitering youth and football hooligans soon be seen as criminal or terrorist organisations under our judicial system? And what about everyone who thinks or acts differently? Where can we draw the line? And who makes the decisions over this? And who will scrutinize the decision maker and the executor?

At the moment, it is under the big heading of ‘profiling’ that ever more privacy violations take place. The aim of profiling is tracking entire populations or target groups in order to identify so-called 'outliers' through criteria and norms that are to be imposed. Outliers are deviations from the norm: people who behave differently than the ‘normal group’, or a specific group the government has set its eyes upon, whoever it may concern. People who have unpaid bills, who drive too fast, who gather in groups, attorneys, journalists, activists, airplane passengers, those entitled to public aid, sect members, etc. Just identify and track them, you never know if there’s someone amongst them who hasn’t abided by the rules or who fits a certain profile you’re looking for.

Profiling is characterised by four aspects that in our perception are in conflict with the Dutch Constitution as the basis for our constitutional State:

  • The reversion of a fundamental principle of law: citizens are tracked en masse without a concrete, reasonable suspicion of a crime. Through profiling everyone becomes a potential suspect and everyone’s privacy can be violated unpunished.
  • With the current state of technology, profiling is aimed at continuous, real-time identification instead of passive registration and analysis of data of a citizen under reasonable suspicion. So we move from registration to identification, without the authorization and awareness of the trustful citizen. In this way, out of its own distrust the government abuses the good faith of citizens and in so doing imposes its own standard criteria. Without any democratic evaluation or strict legal guarantees.
  • The application of the technology used for profiling is based on the principle that ‘everything’s allowed if it’s technically possible’. For the greater part this development is invisible for citizens. Subway stations, trains, busses, trams, inner cities, police helmets and even parking machines (!) in Amsterdam are incessantly being equipped with cameras. These are linked to central control rooms and, where possible, fitted with identification and pattern recognition software in order to be able to directly perceive ‘suspicious matters’. The mantra of our government: ‘ill doers are ill deemers’.
  • Increasing restrictions to internet freedom of companies and individuals. Since 2010 all our personal telephone and email correspondence are being stored. All this is being done to prepare for profiling. At the moment the US Congress is working on a legislative proposal (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, CISPA) which grants private businesses and the US government the right to spy on citizens at any given moment and for as long as they want and to report them in case there are ‘outliers’. All of this without the need for a warrant. WikiLeaks, child porn, copying illegal content and the like are all too readily used to introduce new legislation to further restrict our internet freedom and which is to be applied in other areas the government wants to have control over. Preferably on a worldwide scale, without any democratic scrutiny. The government obliges citizens to increasingly use online services: the Citizen ‘Service’ (Control that is) Number (in Dutch: Burger Service Nummer, BSN), the Electronic Child File (Elektronisch Kind Dossier, EKD/DDJGZ), the Electronic Student File (Elektronisch Leerlingen Dossier, ELD), Diagnosis Treatment Combinations in healthcare (Diagnose Behandel Combinaties, DBC’s), etc. Of every citizen an ‘electronic life file’ comes into existence which in conjunction with electronic traces are to become able to predict suspect or deviant behaviour. Preferably in real-time and online. All of this, naturally, to protect our freedom...

In case fingerprints in passports will be replaced by new biometric features, the road will be cleared for a much worse form of profiling. Through the use of facial scans in databases, citizens will be able to be identified and tracked in public spaces in real-time and to be singled out through profiling on the basis of criteria predetermined by ‘someone’. In this process the government deliberately focuses on modifying the technology. As a result, there is 'fortunately' no need to talk about whether or not biometrics are actually desirable in our society, and if so, under which conditions and guarantees. Privacy First advocates for 'privacy by design' and privacy enhanced technologies as well as strict legislation with regard to biometrics and profiling. Because we don’t want to leave our children behind in an electronic concentration camp...

For a free, open and vivid 2012!

Bas Filippini,
Chairman of the Privacy First Foundation

Postscript: in the context of the National Privacy Debate, this column has also been published (in Dutch) as an Opinion by Dutch web-magazine Webwereld: http://webwereld.nl/opinie/110383/profiling-het-grootste-gevaar-voor-privacy--opinie-.html and http://nationaalprivacydebat.nl/article/ww/110383/profiling-het-grootste-gevaar-voor-privacy-opinie

Published in Columns

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