Hearing On Echelon In Dutch Parliament

23.01.2001

Recent developments in Holland could help the inquiry on Echelon of the European Parliament

Dutch members of parliament are not surprised by the official confirmation of the Dutch government of the existence of Echelon. But nevertheless, the confirmation is 'alarming' to them. Dutch members of the European Parliament hope the confirmation of the Dutch government will enable a much needed breaktrough for the temporary committee on Echelon in the Europen Parliament, which seems to have big problems in conducting its investigation.

Monday the Dutch Parliament held a public hearing on Echelon. Last Friday, the Dutch government confirmed the existence of Echelon. Duncan Campbell told the members of parliament of recent developments in his research into the global spying system Echelon. He has just finished a report for the temporary committee on Echelon of the European Parliament, in which more evidence of economical spying is revealed.

Members of investigative bureau Jansen & Janssen, a watchdog in the field of police and intelligence services, underlined the interlace between police investigations and the intelligence services. As intelligence services have more and more powers in investigating organised crime, information that can't be checked properly will play an important part in criminal investigations. They argued for better control on intelligence services and guarantees against the misuse of information from intelligence sources. They further criticised recent developments in the Netherlands, which will give more powers to law enforcement and intelligence services, including the power to intercept at random satellite communication. They also asked for more investigation in the role played by hard to control international and partly informal organisations like ILETS, the G8 and The European working groups on police co-operation.

The representative of the digital rights movement Bits of Freedom pointed at the strange fact that the official report of the Dutch government is only based on open sources. Why didn't the Dutch intelligence service conduct an investigation in to Echelon, as it is its task to investigate threats to the Dutch national interests? He also stressed the ambiguity of the governmental position. On the one hand they are asked to provide for better protection of citizen's rights, while on the other hand the government has its own interest in keeping interception possibilities as high as possible.

The Dutch academic researcher Cees Wiebes doubted if Echelon really posed a serious threat to the privacy of citizens. He claims that the explosion in communication of all sorts, made it impossible for intelligence services to monitor and analyse all the communication. He expected that in the future intelligence services would concentrate on finer search and analytical tools, to conduct more precise investigations, which would result in less danger for the privacy.

The Members of parliament seamed to be overwhelmed by the far-reaching proportions of international spying practices. 'When I hear this, if feel powerless,' stated the representative of the Christian-democratic Party, Jan Wijn. Several members asked the experts what parliament could do against unlimited interception practices. But the experts answered that there have been a lot of suggestions for national and international legislation that could lead to better control of the work of intelligence services, but that the decisive part is the political will and courage of parliament to force these legislation through. The experience is that the Dutch Parliament always accepted the refusal of Dutch government to give more openness and tools of control in the field of intelligence.

Dutch members of the European Parliament seemed to be most pleased with the very recent developments. They complained that the work of the temporary Echelon committee is very difficult and that their work isn't taken seriously. They hope that the confirmation of the Dutch government of the existence of Echelon will be a breakthrough for their own investigation.

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