Leeuwarder Courant, 12 March 2014: 'Thousands of cameras and seventeen million eyes'
"Thousands of cameras increase police clout. Not just on the streets, but everywhere. Is the Netherlands becoming a police state?
Year after year, camera surveillance is growing in the Netherlands. Filming citizens and companies are becoming a potential extension of police and justice, says Vincent Böhre of the Privacy First foundation, which fights for the right to privacy. "That is a slow development towards police state."
Crime detection is above all a government task, Böhre stressed. The fact that citizens are called in to investigate serious crimes is nevertheless legitimate, he believes. "But history shows that new technologies can be used for other things over time."
,,You can use private camera footage to solve serious crime such as robberies or other violent crimes. Everyone will agree with that. But are you also allowed to use them for checking an area ban, for example? Are you allowed to use them if you want to tackle loitering youths?"
"Suppose there is a burka ban. Are citizens then supposed to help enforce such a ban? Are we soon supposed to send images of burka wearers to the police? It's still theory, but in two or three years' time it might not be."
Technology is here to stay, you often hear. You can't stop it.
,,That is a nonsense argument. You don't have to apply every possible technique in society. We don't clone people, for example. And in the defence industry, certain weapons are banned. We have to be keen on the use of camera images. We have to watch out for target shifting."
What are goal shifts?
"Imagine you are on welfare, but visit an expensive shop every day. The camera footage from that shop could be of interest to the Tax Office, or to the UWV, which provides benefits. The technology of camera surveillance requires good regulation. That requires self-restraint from policymakers and an ethical sense."
How many cameras are there actually in the Netherlands?
''Nobody knows that. And that is disturbing. We get a transparent society, with a board that keeps data secret."
The website Sargasso concluded last September that there are 204,000 verifiable cameras in the Netherlands. "The tip of the iceberg," the research site said. And images from private security cameras are 'pierced' live to the police in case of emergencies. That technology is still in its infancy, but it is the future.
,,The growth of camera surveillance is a creeping process and we are barely aware of it. Soon, if citizens also send images to investigating authorities, the police will have 17 million ears and eyes on the street. Then you are creating a police state."
,,If you compare the situation today with that of 10, 20 years ago, you are shocked. But it is not really an issue in the Netherlands yet. Our German neighbours are much more critical of privacy violations because of history. We are lagging behind. I think you have to make the comparison with the discussion about the environment. In the 1960s and 1970s, cynics said the environment was unsalvageable. They were largely proved wrong. Environment is an important issue now. I think it will be the same with privacy. The right to privacy is a human right. That should be protected, promoted and encouraged by the government."
Source: Leeuwarder Courant, 12 March 2014, p. 30.