FECL 12 (February 1993):

The following article is the English translation of a contribution by Dr. Jan Holvast at the 1992 Annual Convention of FIFF (an German organisation of computer professionals for peace and social responsibility), in Burg Rothenfels/FRG, last November. The author is director of Stichting Waakzaamheid Persoonsregistratie in Amsterdam, a consumer oriented foundation in the field of privacy protection. He is also director of the centre for Privacy Research in Amsterdam.

 

THE NETHERLANDS, AN OPEN DOOR IN A EUROPE WITHOUT BORDERS

In the Netherlands, discussion on Europe without borders started in the mid 1980's with the Schengen Agreement between the Benelux-countries, France and Germany, in other words, much earlier than with the Maastricht treaty. The general feeling was that, as a consequence of a "too tolerant" climate in the past, the Netherlands would attract organised crime, drug related crime and political and economic refugees, once the borders opened. That is why two alternatives were discussed: staying tolerant and not accepting the agreement or becoming less tolerant and accepting it. In the end the choice was made for the second alternative.

Two measures were taken to fight the open border situation resulting from the Schengen process. Both affect citizens' life in an indirect and a more direct way. The first is the extended use of the tax number introduced in the mid 70's. The use of the number, at first used solely in the domain of tax registration, was extended to the field of social security in 1989 and later to the house rent allowances, pensions and the registration of students' financial support. Although in 1989 it was exactly prescribed in which situations the use of the so called SOFI (social-fiscal) number was allowed, the extension was accepted without much debate as a means for fighting crime and fraud.

The second measure, affecting citizens more directly, is the introduction of the obligation to identify oneself by using an identity card, issued by the municipality (passport or a special ID-card). This obligation ceased to exist after World War II, because for the Dutch people it was a symbol of authoritarian rule, unworthy of a democracy.

The newly developed ID is a quite simple card, although there are already plans for a more sophisticated "smart" card. The present cards contain the name, address, photo, a number of issue and the SOFI number. The introduction of the card is, once again, justified with the argument that an open society as the Dutch will need a new form of control after the opening of the borders (Schengen, Maas-tricht). It is expected that the parliament will accept the law, introducing the the obligation to identify oneself in numerous situations including, for instance, work space, football stadiums, public transport and banking. Moreover, foreigners can always be asked to identify themselves in front of public authorities.

While most politicians label the field of mandatory use of the card as "restricted", people tend to perceive the obligation as general in practice.

Furthermore, as a result of the increasing use of computer technology, privacy protection is at stake. Major infringements on privacy can be observed as a result of databank matching and the use of telematics (the combination of telecommunication services and computer technology). The political propaganda machinery is full at work in colorfully depicting the alleged scale of the problems of fraud, crime and, especially, illegal residents. According to opinion makers within politics and the media, these problems can only be solved by using information technology and databases, for instance by SOFI number based computer matching.

As a result, three direct effects of the Schengen and Maastricht process in respect to privacy and freedom can be seen:

1. From a permissive society in the past, the Netherlands are moving to a more repressive society in which control is increased.

2. From a trust based society we are moving to a society based on distrust. Everybody is seen as a potential defrauder, criminal or illegal alien. Quite obviously, coloured people will be the first to be submitted to increased control.

3. From a constitutional state, the Netherlands are developing towards a control state in which fundamental constitutional rights are reversed. The burden of proof will be reversed and the principle of self-incrimination will be accepted. Legal means will tend to be used as a tool for control. Ironically, even the Data Protection Act (DPA) is ever more likely to be used in that way. Instead of protecting the privacy of people it already now serves as a legitimisation of dubious practices. Matching data? It is allowed, since we have a DPA. Introducing numbers and ID-cards? It is allowed, since we have a DPA. Other laws too, intended to protect personal freedom, are changed in order to allow the use of information technology, without considering the effects on privacy and freedom.

A question often raised in the Netherlands is whether the Schengen and Maastricht process will end up in a "Fortress Europe" or whether, in the contrary, it will evolute into a new form of democracy.

Based on the experiences of the last few years, the first is more probable than the latter. It is all too obvious that the people in power are building an ivory tower - the control state.

Dr. Jan Holvast

 

Contact: Dr. Jan Holvast, Stichting Waakzaamheid Persoonregistratie, Postbus 711, NL-1000 AS Amsterdam, Tel:+31/20 6271367, Fax:+31/20 6384310.