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Power, lies and cowardice


  Privacy First, Amsterdam, 21 November 2009

"The essence of broad unease is ..."

Column "Power, lies and cowardice" by Prof Bob Smalhout.
Appeared in The Telegraph of 21 Nov 2009, page T9.

Power, lies and cowardice
by Prof Bob Smalhout


After years of political woes, it is apparently beginning to dawn on many countrymen that our government's almost innumerable measures, statements, plans and promises possess the unreliability of the Dutch weather. Hence most politicians' panicked fear of elections, of a plebiscite combined with a stage growth in the number of potential voters for the PVV, Geert Wilders' party. The essence of the broad unease (always disdainfully called 'gut feelings' by the political establishment) is the growing fear of having our private lives increasingly encroached upon by the government. Did we recently have to deal with the Ministry of Finance paying out large sums of money to criminals offering stolen private financial data, we are now being ambushed by Minister Eurlings (CDA) of Transport and Public Works, with an elaborate plan to start recording and taxing car mileage via in-car monitors. Not only that over nine million of these boxes are needed, but on top of that they have to be installed. And all this will cost millions.

Motorists become responsible for the proper functioning of their electronic guards. Defects must be reported immediately to the government, which threatens high fines and even imprisonment. How that average citizen is supposed to find out if the device is working properly is not mentioned. Nor what happens in case of theft. But the most oppressive thing is that through this system, the government can know where and when everyone is. To gild this pill a little, it is added that the system would reduce traffic jams, thus shortening travel times and that there would be fewer accidents, with decimal points as if it were pure mathematics. But we are by now familiar with this deceptive psychological technique. Health minister Klink (CDA) is doing the same, but with his own hobbyhorse, the "electronic patient record.

Road pricing has a long history and many ministers have gritted their teeth over it. Like Kroes, who in 1989, as Minister of Transport and Public Works, proposed 'road pricing'. In 1991, her successor Maij-Weggen (CDA) had proposals for both a rush-hour vignette and a carpool lane. Jorritsma (VVD) came up with the 'road pricing' bill and Netelenbos (PvdA) devised the electronic toll gates. All projects ran aground on the only thing the harassed population can do - torpedo what in politics is called 'a social support base'.


Yet, all those never implemented large-scale plans did cost many millions of taxpayers' money. Only ex-minister Netelenbos got the immortal nickname of 'Tineke Tolpoort' from it. Also, an unpleasant measure by socialist Wim Kok, as proof of politicians' unreliability, has forever stuck in the collective memory of our citizenry. He introduced the infamous 'Kok's quarter' in 1991. It was supposed to be a temporary measure: fl 0.25 extra per litre of petrol, to plug a hole in his budget. Now, after 18 years, we are still paying that Kok's quarter. But what the Dutch fear most is the continuous encroachment on their private lives. This is felt very strongly by people who consciously lived through World War II.
All measures taken by the German occupation forces at the time relied on perfect registration and documentation. This made it a piece of cake for the Nazis to round up, transport and murder our Jewish fellow citizens. The government was so fond of perfect population registration in the 1930s that we were the first in Europe to use electromechanical computers, the Hollerith system. A punch card machine, invented by Hermann Hollerith in 1884 and produced by the American firm IBM.

Without IBM's Hollerith devices, the extermination of millions of Jews would have been much more difficult. The Dutchman responsible for that perfect registration and organisation in our country was Jacobus Lambertus Lentz, head of the Rijksinspectie der Bevolkingsregistraties and inventor of the then infamous personal ID card (identity card), which was virtually impossible to forge. His motto was "To Register is to Serve". His ideas on blind service cost the lives of more than 102,000 Jewish Dutch people.


That the war generation's deep distrust of mass population registrations for any purpose is still deeply entrenched was reported in the daily newspaper Trouw on 5 November last in an article about hackers who could effortlessly crack computer codes. A professional hacker designated as 'Henk', who is a software developer investigating website security, finds between 40 and 100 electronic leaks at government, corporate and other organisations every week.

The rationale behind all these large-scale registration systems is the deep-seated desire of most politicians to exercise power. Everything is often sacrificed to that end. But as soon as a large part of the population puts its foot down and shouts NO, many politicians turn into cowardly petty people capable of completely revising their opinions within 24 hours. A classic example this week was Housing, Communities and Integration Minister Eberhard van der Laan (PvdA), who only recently arrogantly refused to provide Wilders (PVV) with data on the cost of mass non-Western immigration. Three days ago, with the hot breath of the same Wilders breathing down his neck, Eberhard uttered this brilliant sentence: "We (PvdA), were quite foolhardy not to realise that for integration to succeed, you do have to make demands. We left the Dutch out in the cold." So there are still miraculous healings that cannot be explained medically. Now to Eurlings. Would Lourdes be an option for him?