News feature | 08-07-2022 | 15:00
At the suggestion of Justice and Security Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, the Council of Ministers has approved a bill to criminalize several forms of espionage. Many espionage activities are already punishable under Dutch law. Think of classic espionage such as violation of state and trade secrets. However, criminal law still has insufficient room for maneuver if there are no state, official or trade secrets, or if other acts are performed for foreign powers. These include the collection and delivery of packages, the tracking of persons and the distribution of information. While such activities can also lead to a danger to national security or to the safety of individuals. This bill changes that.
Minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius: “Endangering Dutch interests through espionage must be severely punished. Therefore, it is good that a maximum prison sentence of 8 years can soon be imposed on persons who carry out espionage activities for a foreign government. With this bill, I ensure better protection of our national security now that the threat is increasing and I give substance to an important ambition of the coalition agreement. “
Espionage activities for foreign governments
The bill makes it a criminal offense to carry out espionage activities for a foreign government, thereby endangering important Dutch interests, such as national security and the security of individuals. An example of this is that a person living in the Netherlands, who has previously had contact with an intelligence officer from a foreign regime, travels from the Netherlands to abroad and takes documents with him at the request of the spy. In addition, a prison sentence of up to 8 years can be imposed. In addition, persons who encourage others to perform such acts for another country are also punishable under the new provision. Because espionage activities are increasingly taking place digitally, the penalty for a number of computer offenses is increased by a third when committed for a foreign power.
Foreign powers are also increasingly trying to exert influence in societies in the Netherlands that originate from these countries. This is also known as diaspora espionage. For example, data is collected – openly and secretly – and attempts are made to influence citizens of this community based on their own (alleged) interest. In doing so, it does not shy away from mobilizing members of the community to remain silent or press opponents and critics within those communities to cooperate in any other way. This too will be punishable under the new law.
In many cases, contact, cooperation or exchange of information with foreign governments is not punishable and should not be punished. After all, the Netherlands is an open society where contact with foreign governments, companies, scientists, journalists and between citizens is and must remain possible. This is why espionage activities are punishable only if conduct is carried out for foreign governments that harms important Dutch interests, such as national security and the security of persons, and if the person carrying out the activities is aware that he is creating danger. interests and also intends or accepts this.
The bill is prompted in part by the 2021 State Actors Threat Assessment, which the National Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terrorism (NCTV) has prepared together with the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD). This threat assessment outlines the threat from various state actors and also what possible targets they are aiming for.
The internet consultation for this bill took place earlier this year. The Council of Ministers has now agreed to send the bill to the Council of State for advice.