Meet the five students fighting for the future of Dutch digital privacy

Privacy news
4 mins
Five students protecting Dutch digital privacy.

UPDATE: Wednesday October 11, 2017

Meet the five students who fought for the future of Dutch digital privacy… And won!

They did it! The students behind the Sleepwet petition surpassed 300,000 signatures on Monday, October 9, 2017—enough to trigger a formal request for a national referendum on the new invasive digital privacy laws. You check their latest signature milestones here.

What’s next for the Dutch privacy protagonists?

“We are very happy,” Tijn tells ExpressVPN, “it still feels a bit unreal.” On October 16, 2017, the group will hand in the more than 350,000 signatures to the government, who then check their validity.

If the signatures are validated, the referendum will be announced on November 1st and will likely take place on March 21, 2018, the same day as municipal elections.

The referendum will be the second initiated by citizens of the Netherlands in the past two years, the first one being the referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Treaty in 2016.

As for the group, they have now garnered enough support from dozens of organizations that will reduce what will be a hefty campaign.

“We will try to motivate as many people as possible to go and vote “no,” but we might not go in total campaign mode: There are loads of other organizations that probably will, like Amnesty International.”

Stay updated on their Twitter and Facebook for further information on the referendum.


On January 1, 2018, the Netherlands will enforce a new data-mining law that will grant unprecedented power to Dutch intelligence agencies—unless five students can get 300,000 signatures by mid-October to trigger a national referendum.

The students already have 60,000 signatures and have attracted global attention in their plight. But they need your help to get over the line!

What is the new data-mining law in the Netherlands?

From January 1, an amendment to the 2002 Intelligence and Security Services Act will grant the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD and its military counterpart MIVD, among other things, the power to access the metadata of any and all of its citizens.

The physical area where the agencies can intercept data will also expand to include whole neighborhoods and train stations.

The law further extends AIVD and MIVD hacking privileges to include the devices of third parties associated with targeted individuals—like friends, family members, and companies they may use (much like the NSA’s relationship with Microsoft, Google, and Apple).

What will change when Amendment 34588 is enforced?

Chart of changes Amendment 34588 will enforce

Read the complete text of Amendment 34588 in PDF form.

Who’s fighting the new Dutch law?

Civil rights organizations and justice councils

Immediately after the law passed, twelve organizations have prepared a joint lawsuit to try and stop it. Aside from trying to reverse the infringement on digital privacy, they also question what supervision the AIVD and MIVD would have.

Usually, the independent committee known as the CTIVD supervises the Dutch intelligence services with a strict application of existing legal frameworks, but the new law puts the decision-making into the hands of politicians.

The decision, therefore, becomes a political one, which undermines the CTIVD’s role of neutral arbitration.

Five students from Amsterdam

Marlou Gijzen, Tijn de Vos, and three other students from the University of Amsterdam have started a campaign to bring the law into a public discussion before the Netherlands government enforces it.

Dubbing the new law “het sleepwet,” or “the dragnet,” for its catch-all ability, the students are worried about the government’s ability to perform mass surveillance of its citizens.
“We feel a demand for a referendum among Dutch citizens,” says Marlou, “we want to initiate a social discussion about the law because it has a large impact on the privacy of every citizen, and no real discussion has yet been held.”

The small group has growing support: Amnesty International is the latest in the list of non-profit organizations like Bits of Freedom, Free Press Unlimited, and the Internet Society that are signal-boosting this drive to trigger a public conversation about the data-mining law.

The Netherlands and citizens’ rights

The Netherlands ranks fifth in press freedom and retains a strong track record of maintaining its citizens’ rights; the step to increase government control will undermine how the Dutch enjoy their democratic rights. Tijn argues, “without privacy, the people can’t freely express themselves, which is of utmost importance for a democracy like the Netherlands.”

For such a seismic shift in citizens’ rights, the law received little coverage before it passed. Bits of Freedom’s Executive Director Hans de Zwart tells ExpressVPN his theory: “We are a country with a relatively high level of trust in the government, which was probably one of the reasons why the law was able to pass with relatively little societal discussion.”

Tijn shares this sentiment, but remains hopeful that the attention the students, the media, and the non-profits have drawn will attract more signatures; “not a lot of people know about it, but once we explain it they agree with us.”

De Zwart is cautiously optimistic they will get the required 300,000 signatures to trigger a public discussion on the law and expects the next hurdle will be the struggle over which narrative dominates public discussion, saying:

“The proponents of the law will try to frame it as security versus privacy, whereas we will try to show it for what it is: freedom versus (government) control.”

Want to support the students in their fight? Here’s how:

If you’re a Dutch citizen living in the Netherlands, sign your name before October 12 on:

If you’re living outside of the Netherlands:

  • Follow the students’ Twitter and Facebook to get updates on their progress

Picture credits: Annelene Schulze

Ceinwen focused on digital privacy, censorship, and surveillance, and has interviewed leading figures in tech.