A social media revolt occurred a number of weeks ago (and is ongoing), in which the Dutch and the Germans publically accused the Turkish dictator as well as their own government for not being allowed to call him a goatfucker. Since I joyfully get mixed up a good fight once in a while, I joined that argument, mainly by stating that it was not about civilized people defending free speech, but rather about westerners bullying Turks.
I’d like to carry this line of thought to punch mode now that the Dutch newspapers published an item on a far more severe threat to the freedom of Dutch speech, yet got ignored by all the free speech heroes of the past month.
This morning, it was announced that the editors-in-chief of the most prominent Dutch newspapers wrote a letter to the government in which they presented their analyses of a new law proposal. As a protection to freedom of press, the Dutch law grants journalists the right not to denounce their sources if questioned. Recently, however, the government has been accused of regularly listening in on Dutch journalists and locking them up, hoping to find out who their sources were. The government will reassess this freedom of press law in June.
The editors-in-chief draw two scary conclusions. First, the current law proposal would grant the AIVD (the Dutch version of the NSA) the legal right to trace sources of all journalists through their telecommunication systems. Second, the proposal creates confusion on the definition of ‘journalism’, and would put bloggers like myself into a grey area for the questioning bit. These laws would give the Dutch government the legal right to track down any informant without interference of a judge. Thus, people who provide sensitive information should start watching their backs. In other words: goodbye protection of the freedom of speech.
But is twitter booming? Do the comedians revolt? Is anyone else talking about it? Just a few people. If I search for ‘vrijheid van meningsuiting’ (‘freedom of speech’ in Dutch) on twitter, I find no one. Persvrijheid (‘freedom of press’) gives just a few hits.
Let’s be clear, here, I have relatively good trust in the Dutch government. I think they were more civilized 20 years ago, but we all were, so yes, they have my blessing to govern me. To give them the right to all of my future news sources, however, is a different story. Who is going to rule us next? Will they benefit from the potential law change? Maybe not, but to give an unknown future group that power is a bad idea.
I could wonder: who am I kidding? The state is already right on top of us ever since the technology is available. True, but they can still be sued for it, and it should stay that way.
Now: why is does this not cause a revolt as big as the Böhmermann vs Erdogan face-off? To be honest, I think it’s because of how the human mind works. The case is just too complex, too distant, too hard to grasp. There’s no easy black sheep. It’s not a fight on which you can place your bets. So person number one doesn’t care, and person number two doesn’t follow person number one, while person number three sees no opportunity to earn any money here, and turns the other way. Hence the case resides in obscurity.
But let’s keep up the spirit. I do believe the government will listen to these editors-in-chief. I do suspect adaptations in the plans. Still, the statement that was made would be far more powerfull if the people would join the debate. The self-proclaimed protestors for free speech are now losing their face. They sham they go against the current, yet in reality enter the main stage and scream what the crowd wants to hear. Entertainment prevails while justice gets hidden in the noise.