The new Dutch Intelligence and Security Services Act, colloquially known as de sleepwet (referring to dragnet or trawling), is often presented as a choice between privacy on the one hand and finding terrorists on the other. But according to PhD student Bernold Nieuwesteeg, whose doctoral research is on cybersecurity, this is a false dichotomy.


When the Dutch people go to the polling stations on 21 March, they will not just vote for their municipal councillors. They will also cast a vote on the Intelligence and Security Services Act in an advisory referendum. In Studio Erasmus, Bernold Nieuwesteeg, who is conducting doctoral research on cybersecurity at the Erasmus School of Law, explains what the act is all about and why he objects to it.

Adding hay to the stack

“When it comes down to it, it’s a silly act,” says Nieuwesteeg. “Finding terrorists is like finding a needle in a haystack. All this act does is adding more hay to the haystack,” he explains. “It will only make it harder to find that needle.” After all, intelligence services will obtain much more data once they have been granted more powers and are able to tap all telephones in a particular street or neighbourhood.

Therefore, Nieuwesteeg believes the choice between privacy and finding terrorists is a false dichotomy, because we should first ask ourselves whether the act is actually efficient. “Of course the privacy debate plays a part in this, but first we must determine whether this act has any benefits.”