Everyone has a fundamental right to privacy. It’s a reality that in our fast-paced digital world, this right to privacy is constantly under threat. Unlike paper data, digital information can swiftly move across borders and fall easily into the wrong hands. Mobile internet usage in the Netherlands has skyrocketed in the last five years. Statistics show that 80% of Dutch citizens are mobile internet users.
Unfortunately, many people continue to use insecure communication methods that put their privacy at risk, often due to a lack of education about digital privacy laws and surveillance tactics. Knowing your digital rights in the Netherlands will help you make choices that will ultimately guard your privacy.
Digital privacy laws in the Netherlands
Laws pertaining to electronic communications and personal data privacy in the Netherlands fall under either the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) or the Telecommunications Act, and sometimes both.
Under the PDPA, personal data can be legally accessed under certain conditions. Consent must be obtained by the data subject (that’s you) before the act of collecting or processing any identifiable information. Of course, there are exceptions to this right to consent. It’s still possible for your personal information to be shared without your knowledge because of requests from internet service providers or Dutch law enforcement agencies.
According to the Telecommunications Act, it’s your right to be informed by your service or network provider that there’s been a breach of security. Dutch law says that data can be legally stored if it is being used in a criminal investigation or persecution of a serious offence such as terrorism. In this context, the stored data can only be kept for one year.
If you suspect that your personal data is being viewed or processed, it’s your right to request the service provider or party in question to confirm whether or not this is the case. It’s also your right to ask for the logic behind why your data is being processed. You must receive a response in writing within four weeks.
Dutch citizens have the right to submit complaints about digital privacy violations to the Dutch Data Protection Authority via the National Ombudsman.
For more information and support on digital rights in the Netherlands, consider checking out Bits of Freedom, an advocacy organization.
How to protect yourself
While Dutch laws seem to have the intention of protecting citizens, it’s obvious that exceptions made for law enforcement investigations and security breaches could still put your personal privacy at risk.
It wasn’t encouraging to see this Dutch official express a willingness to sacrifice privacy for security in order to install encryption “backdoors” in popular messaging apps (luckily, the Dutch government didn’t agree).
Nonetheless, here are some tips for protecting yourself.
Take the time to research telecommunications providers in the Netherlands. The two biggest issues for telecommunications providers are data storage and interference from law enforcement.
A popular provider, KPN, was the victim of a massive hacking incident in 2012. A 17-year-old managed to gain access to the KPN servers and the email addresses of two million users. KPN was forced to revoke access to the email accounts and ask users to reset their passwords.
The company was ultimately fined by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets for “insufficiently securing customer data.”
The logical next step is to choose a provider that not only encrypts your communications, but doesn’t actually store any of your private information.
Beyond researching your telecommunications provider, consider what may happen to your digital data if you try to cross an international border, as some citizens have run into problems trying to enter the U.S. in recent months. Border guards have asked to search their mobile phones.
While it seems to be within the rights of travellers to refuse the search, it may be easier to delete any unnecessary apps before travelling, take a temporary phone while on vacation or simply use an email encryption service that automatically deletes messages over a day old, and can be wiped at a moment’s notice.
Choose PGP encryption for secure communication
Because as citizens we’re at the mercy of laws set by those in power, it’s vital that you choose a communications provider, and a secure device, that makes reading your email impossible.
While BlackBerry PGP encryption can’t necessarily stop emails from being intercepted, the emails themselves are encrypted and can’t be read. You’re in total control of your privacy.