October 19, 2012, 1:00 PM — The Dutch government wants to give law enforcement authorities the power to hack into computers, including those located in other countries, for the purpose of discovering and gathering evidence during cybercrime investigations.
In a letter that was sent to the lower house of the Dutch parliament on Monday, the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice Ivo Opstelten outlined the government's plan to draft a bill in upcoming months that would provide law enforcement authorities with new investigative powers on the Internet.
According to the letter, the new legislation would allow cybercrime investigators to remotely infiltrate computers in order to install monitoring software or to search them for evidence. Investigators would also be allowed to destroy illegal content, like child pornography, found during such searches.
These investigative powers would not only cover computers located in the Netherlands, but also computers located in other countries, if the location of those computers cannot be determined.
However, if the investigators can establish that a computer of interest is located in a foreign country, they will have to ask for assistance from the authorities in that country.
In his proposal, Opstelten used a case in which investigators from the Dutch National Police infiltrated "hidden" Tor websites that hosted child pornography, as an example of a situation in which the geographical location of the computers couldn't be determined.
The Tor network allows its users to set up so-called "hidden services" that are only accessible from within the network using special addresses. When accessing such a service, a user's connection is routed through several random Tor nodes, which prevents him from determining the real Internet Protocol (IP) address of the server hosting the service.
The Dutch police investigation referenced by Opstelten in his letter took place in August 2011 and two of the infiltrated Tor websites were hosted on servers located in the U.S.
The new legislation will provide strict safeguards for the proposed investigative powers, Opstelten said. Law enforcement authorities will only be able to exercise such powers when investigating offenses that carry a maximum prison sentence of four years or more and only after obtaining authorization from a judge, he said. Furthermore, all such actions will be automatically logged and the logs will be accessible for later review.
Cybercrime is a serious problem that needs to be tackled, but the proposed measures are not the right ones and they pose a serious risk to cybersecurity, Ot van Daalen, the director of Dutch digital rights organization Bits of Freedom, said Friday.