Dutch bill seeks to give law enforcement hacking powers

Dutch law enforcement should be allowed to break into computers outside the Netherlands when necessary, the draft bill said

By Loek Essers, IDG News Service |  IT Management

The Dutch government today presented a draft bill that aims to give law enforcement the power to hack into computer systems -- including those located in foreign countires -- to do research, gather and copy evidence or block access to certain data.

Law enforcement should be allowed to block access to child pornography, read emails that contain information exchanged between criminals and also be able to place taps on communication, according to a draft bill published Thursday and signed by Ivo Opstelten, the Minister of Security and Justice. Government agents should also be able to engage in activities such as turning on a suspect's phone GPS to track their location, the bill said.

Opstelten announced last October he was planning to craft this bill.

Encryption of electronic data is increasingly becoming a problem for the police if they want to place taps, the draft reads. Services like Gmail and Twitter use standard encryption and many other services like Facebook and Hotmail provide encryption as an option while some smartphones automatically encrypt communication, it said. Moreover, services like Skype, WhatsApp and VPN-services can easily be encrypted.

Right now, the law enforcement agencies do not have the ability to adequately cope with encryption during criminal investigations, and this needs to change, according to the bill.

Another problem is tackling distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that recently have been used to cripple the online services of Dutch banks and DigiD, an identity management platform used by Dutch government agencies. Criminals can use botnets paralyze vital parts of society and law enforcement needs better measures to deal with them, the bill's authors argued.

To disable a botnet it is necessary to access the command and control servers that control the botnet which can be located in a foreign country, according to the bill. The new investigative powers would also allow law enforcement to infiltrate computers or servers located in foreign countries if the location of those computers cannot be determined.

The bill also aims to force suspects who possess child pornography and suspects who are linked to terrorism activities to decrypt files on their computers. Ignoring such a decryption demand can lead to a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment.

Fencing of stolen data would also become punishable in order to prevent the misuse of stolen data that is published on the Internet after a hack or burglary. Publishing stolen data could land offenders in prison for a maximum of one year.

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