The Dutch government is proposing a change to the country's laws that will place electronic communication under constitutional protection.
According to a proposed amendment to article 13 of the Dutch Constitution submitted to the Dutch Parliament this week, the law governing the confidentiality of letters, phone communications, and telegraphs, will be replaced by a more modern law, applying that confidentiality to both letters and all telecommunications.
The amendment effectively means that emails, conversations over VoIP, and shielded online messages (password-protected messaging services such as Facebook chat or WhatsApp) will also be considered confidential by the constitution.
The proposal — submitted to Parliament by prime minister Mark Rutte, home affairs minister Ronald Plasterkof, and security and justice minister Ivo Opstelten — also highlights that the term 'telegraph' is painfully obsolete.
Instead, the proposed amendment deliberately refrains from defining the specific technologies it applies to, in order to make the legislation futureproof. The generic wording will allow any new communication methods created in future to be protected by the constitution as well.
Of course, there are exceptions
Under the confidentiality law, that the government is not allowed to learn the content of any communication, regardless of the medium the message was sent through.
Obviously, the ban does come with a number of legal exceptions, allowing the government to intercept communications in particular scenarios — for instance, in the case of investigations by the police or intelligence agencies.
The change in the Netherlands' legislation is good news of those with privacy fears, however, it's perhaps not advisable to engage in entirely frank discussions about the PM over VoIP just yet, as he might still be listening.
It will take some time before the constitution can actually be changed to include the proposed amendment, as it has to go through several rounds of voting within the parliament before being accepted.
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