July 22, 2014

Dutch constitution will finally include e-mail

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 8:33 pm

grondwet-grondwetfestival_nlArticle 13 of the Dutch constitution declares a secrecy of correspondence, meaning the government and others are not allowed to snoop on your mail.

However, there is an unfortunate loophole: the law specifically talks about paper mail. E-mail was never included and therefore exists in a legal limbo.

According to Internet lawyer Arnoud Engelfriet, the council of ministers of the Netherlands has now proposed a change in the constitution that will not actually name e-mail, but which will make the phrasing of Article 13 more generic. A change in the constitution requires two consecutive parliaments to vote for that change, the idea being that the change can be made an issue in the elections.

Not that it matters much, as the Dutch constitution, which is now 200 years old, is more of a guideline than law. Judges are not allowed to ignore laws based on their constitutionality. The constitution may be said to have a normative function, for example, it could show courts how to interpret a vague law, but a 2009 study by the national government claims that this normative function is eroding (PDF). Instead a societal function is emerging, as the constitution aims to hold up a mirror to the citizens of the kingdom and to show us what our shared values are.

See also: an English translation of Article 13.

(Photo of the constitution of 1814 by Grondwetfestival.nl, used with permission)

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May 25, 2013

March against Monsanto draws thousands in the Netherlands alone

Filed under: Nature by Branko Collin @ 7:33 pm

Today dozens of demonstrations were held against the actions and influence of Monsanto, an American company that produces genetically modified seeds.

Protesters expressed fear that genetically modified organisms cause harm to the health of human beings and animals, and disturb important natural processes.

In the Netherlands five of these Marches against Monsanto were organized, in Amsterdam, Wageningen, The Hague, Bergschenhoek and Leiden. According to Volkskrant, 1000 protestors showed up in Amsterdam and 1200 in Wageningen. Monsanto has offices in Wageningen, the location of an agricultural university, and Bergschenhoek.


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February 25, 2013

Printing error in law could mean more money for record companies

Filed under: IT,Technology by Branko Collin @ 1:20 pm

Here is some free advice for our government. If you want the difference between gigabit and gigabyte to be clear, do not abbreviate those words!

A small printing error has made it so that multinational record companies can pump even more of our tax money out of the country, at least in theory. In October last year the Ministry of Justice published a table of copyright levies in Staatsblad, the official government newspaper in which laws and decisions must be printed to become legal. Where the ministry wanted to write ‘gigabyte’, it wrote ‘Gb’, an abbreviation meaning gigabit. When talking about storage a byte typically contains 8 bits.

This means that legally speaking people who for example buy a smartphone with 2 gigabytes of storage would have to pay a higher price.

In practice this will likely not occur. Jochem Donker, a legal consultant working for Stichting Thuiskopie, the organisation that will collect the levies, told Webwereld: “We agreed upon gigabytes, so I find it hard to imagine that parliament suddenly changed its mind. This is probably a capslock error. I expect we will not abuse this.” Several lawyers called the use of ‘gigabit’ “an apparent mistake” (kennelijke verschrijving).

The ministry has decided that it will not correct the text until the levies are up for revision in 2014. “If we had meant gigabit, we would have written Gbps.” Fail! Gbps means ‘gigabit per second’. Later the spokesperson admitted that the ministry had made a mistake. “But it is evident that we meant ‘gigabyte’. The reports of the lower house also say ‘gigabyte’.”

Here is more free advice. If you desperately do want to use abbreviations, for instance because you are printing a table and the columns aren’t very wide, explain your abbreviations in a legend.

(Image: Staatsblad)

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July 16, 2012

Netherlands leave gap in net neutrality law for principled providers

Filed under: IT,Religion,Technology by Branko Collin @ 10:06 am

Maxime Verhagen, Minister of Economic Affairs, has written a letter to evangelical Internet access provider Solcon that their filtering system does not run afoul of the Dutch net neutrality law that was recently passed by the Senate.

Solcon provides filtered access to the Internet for clients who do not want to be exposed to values other than Dutch Reformed ones (the Dutch Reformed Church is part of the Protestant Church).

When the law was passed, Solcon threatened to sue the state, although it first wanted to talk to the minister. According to Computable, Maxime Verhagen has now sent a letter (PDF) to Solcon telling the provider that the way it has set up its filters, with clients being in full control of switching the filters on and off, and clients not getting to pay less for filtered access, does not violate the law.

Back in May I outlined three conditions that I felt could guarantee net neutrality while at the same time allowing providers to filter. They were 1) the provider should offer an unfiltered service no more expensive than the unfiltered one, 2) the service should get equal prominence in advertising, and 3) users should be allowed to switch between these services at no cost. Given the nature of Solcon, a provider with evangelical rather than profit seeking goals, my second condition is obviously of less concern, so this seems like a good decision.

The tricky bit for lawyers of more profit-motivated providers to decipher is whether the minister’s answer now leaves ways to sell filtered Internet access to clients without giving them a straight discount. The minister does not single out Solcon in his letter, but speaks of ‘Internet providers’ in general, and though his second condition seems to suggest that he will not allow the use of rate differentiation to lean on clients, the fact that he explicitly mentions lower rates seems to leave room for other forms of enticement or coercion.

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May 19, 2012

Christian providers attack Dutch net neutrality

Filed under: IT,Technology by Branko Collin @ 12:23 pm

The Dutch legislation to safeguard net neutrality as it was originally drafted had an escape clause for filtering on ideological grounds, but that clause was struck when the Senate passed the new telecom law last week.

Christian providers Solcon and Kliksafe, who filter the web on evangelical grounds, are now planning to sue the Dutch government as the new law threatens their business model. Webwereld quotes Kliksafe CEO Bert Jan Peters as saying, “this law actually limits a customer’s freedom.”

Although the Dutch telecom law forbids filtering at a network level, it leaves customers the opportunity to use their own filters or a proxy. Peters said, “some of our customers just don’t want to be tempted to disable the filter. They want security and peace of mind.”

Before taking legal action, the providers will first talk with the economics ministry.

Although I can somewhat sympathise with the providers’ stance, you have to wonder where net neutrality will end up if you leave the tiniest of loopholes open. If the providers were allowed to filter on ideological grounds, there should be strict limitations of what they are allowed to offer. In my mind, such a provider would have to a) offer an unfiltered version of every service at the same price or lower, b) advertise these unfiltered services just as prominently as the filtered ones (advertise the difference, for all I care), and c) allow a user to switch from filtered to unfiltered services at no cost.

See also: Court forces paedophile to move to Christian Internet provider

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