Hirsch Ballin strengthens the approach to computer crime

Minister of Justice Hirsch Ballin intends to protect citizens against the abuse of computer data in more cases. Technical developments make it increasingly simple to take confidential information from a computer and put these on the Internet, which makes these data accessible to large groups. This causes damage to the privacy of the citizens involved and expansion of criminal-law protection is therefore necessary, as is evident from a legislative proposal the Minister today sent to various agencies for advice. Responses can also be submitted via www.internetconsultatie.nl.

It will become punishable - liable to a term of imprisonment of at most one year - for someone to take non-public data without authorisation from a computer while having legitimate access to said computer. For example, it will become punishable for an employee of a company or institution to deliberately copy personal details of a famous Dutch citizen with the objective of selling these to a third party. For that matter, taking the information was already punishable for employees working at a provider of a telecommunications network or service. Hirsch Ballin sees reason to make taking data generally punishable.

Making receiving stolen computer data punishable is new as well. In practice, data from hacked computers, such as passwords and access codes belonging to users, are often used. Criminals who forward digitally stolen information to third parties are currently not punishable because such information is not 'property' from a legal perspective. An essential characteristic of property is that it is no longer available to you if someone absconds with it, such as a stolen bike. If a hacker copies a computer file or forwards it, the owner does not actually lose the data: they are still on the computer. Prosecution for receiving stolen goods is therefore impossible.

The legislative proposal changes this. In future, the owner will no longer need to actually lose the computer data in order to later on prosecute a third party for receiving stolen goods. As regards a conviction, it remains important that the defendant knew or could have suspected that the relevant information came from a crime.

The Minister furthermore intends to broaden the prohibition on monitoring, tapping or recording confidential conversations. At this time, it is for example prohibited to surreptitiously record a conversation in a residence or closed-off area if the person who records the conversation does not participate in it. In future, the prohibition will also apply to perpetrators who participate in the conversation and have recorded it without permission, which brings Dutch legislation in line with existing statutory provisions in France and Germany.

Hirsch Ballin considers it deserving of punishment if you as a participant in a confidential conversation, for example, make surreptitious recordings and subsequently place these on the Internet with the aim of damaging people. This will become liable to a term of imprisonment of at most one year. For that matter, recording conversations in a public area in a visible manner is not punishable. The legislative proposal does not change this.

And finally, the Public Prosecutor will become independently authorised to have punishable information removed from the Internet. A large number of Internet providers cooperates voluntarily in the so-called notice and take down code of conduct. This means that Internet providers will remove data if it is abundantly clear that the information is wrongful or punishable. If the code of conduct does not suffice, the Public Prosecutor can order that the disputed information be rendered inaccessible on the Internet. He can also impose an order for incremental penalty payments, for example if the data have to be blocked quickly in order to prevent worse things from happening and it is necessary to press the order.