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Tobio, turning a group of students into a national campaign against the ‘Sleepwet'

Interview by Ines Bouacida
Photo by Luca van der Kamp

“There’s so much that can go wrong with this new law.”

Something felt wrong to the five students when they found out about the new version of the Intelligence and Security Services Act in August. The bill that the Dutch government was about to pass would allow intelligence services to collect extensive amounts of data of non-target citizens. 

How could a law with such large implications on privacy not be discussed in the public arena?

The five students decided to start a petition asking for a referendum, which gathered 407,582 signatures, way over the needed 300,000. The referendum about the Sleepwet (‘drag’ law in English) took place on 21 March 2018.

Above all, Tobio joined the campaign because the law clashes with his principles.

“There’s so much that can go wrong with this new law. It offers room to injustice. In this case, the right to privacy can be infringed upon without a reason other than the suspicion that someone else might be planning evil acts. I think that should not be allowed”.

He also worries about breaches of patient confidentiality and the principle of source protection of journalists, as well as the ‘chilling effect’ on free speech that might result from the law.

He is now the ‘production supervisor’ of the organisation, which essentially means that he manages the logistics of the campaign. To compensate for their limited capacity, they rely on active citizens, who they supply with campaign materials to advocate against the Sleepwet at their level. “We really set up more of a grassroots level activism.”

Tobio admits that the campaign came with some struggle. For example, the young age of the organisation and its members was sometimes an obstacle in being taken seriously.

“But just through believing in yourself and pressing on, you learn enough to become authoritative enough to talk about it. In the end, authority isn’t everything.”

Tobio is proud of the accomplishments of the campaign and believes it is the beginning of a bigger movement.

“Privacy is not very mainstream, compared to feminism, environmentalism, LGBT rights, etc. These are all movements that have gained a lot of traction from very small beginnings. I already feel quite proud of the prospect that this might be happening now for privacy, no matter what the outcome of the referendum is.”

Tobio was interviewed by Justice and Peace just days before the vote on March 21st. Justice and Peace supported the campaign to stop the Sleepwet on the grounds that the right to privacy and the rule of law in all matters, including those related to security, are paramount and often a prerequisite to guaranteeing fundamental freedoms such as the right to free expression. Most of the voters (49%) voted ‘against’ the referendum.