October 9, 2017 / 3:20 PM / 2 months ago

Referendum likely on Dutch 'tapping' law

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Digital privacy advocates who hope to force the repeal of a law giving Dutch intelligence agencies new surveillance powers said on Monday they have gathered enough signatures to demand a referendum.

A range of activists, politicians and media groups oppose the law, which passed by a healthy margin in July and gives agencies the power to gather data covertly from large groups of people at once.

The petition for a referendum must now be submitted to the Voting Commission to vet whether it has met the 300,000 signature threshold.

If it has, the government is obliged to hold a non-binding referendum on whether the law should be upheld, likely together with municipal elections on March 21.

“You cross the line when large groups of innocent civilians can be dragged into the sights of secret services with a trawling net,” said David Korteweg, a lawyer for online rights group Bits of Freedom, in a statement.

The government argues that the expanded powers are needed for spy agencies to counter threats to national security and their use can be tested by an oversight panel.

The referendum law is itself controversial and may be repealed.

After it was passed in 2015 its first use was to block the Dutch government from ratifying an economic treaty it and other European Union countries had negotiated with Ukraine.

A large “no” vote on the referendum embarrassed The Hague and forced Prime Minister Mark Rutte to seek minor amendments to the treaty.

It later emerged that the signatures to hold the Ukraine referendum were gathered via the internet and never vetted.

Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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