Dutch voters narrowly rejected a new law giving security services greater powers to spy on emails and online data, the electoral council announced Thursday, unveiling final referendum results. More than six million Dutch citizens out of some 13 million eligible voters cast ballots in the national referendum last week on the controversial legislation, set to come into effect on May 1. After a 51.5 percent turnout enough to validate the referendum’s results 49.4 percent voted down the law, while 46.5 percent were in favor.
“The referendum’s outcome therefore is a rejection of the information and security services law,” council chairman Jan-Kees Wiebenga said. “This means the government will have to reconsider the law. However, it’s not a binding referendum,” he told a press conference in The Hague. The referendum, triggered by a group of Amsterdam students as a citizens initiative, was held on March 21 alongside municipal elections across 380 Dutch local councils.
The students were angered by what they saw as a bid by authorities to grab over-arching powers but proponents say it will give security services greater ability to monitor dangerous groups such as jihadist organizations. Although it is non-binding, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who supports the legislation, has vowed he will take the results of the referendum seriously.
Vice Prime Minister Kajsa Ollongren however said Thursday that the cabinet would take its time to consider the results, the ANP news agency said. It is also likely the last referendum in the Netherlands as legislation to repeal the laws under which they can be organized are set to be passed by the upper house of parliament soon. The Dutch results come amid a world-wide firestorm over the online hijacking of personal data including on social media giant Facebook.
The US company has met fierce criticism after it was revealed that the personal data of tens of millions of users was harvested by a British firm linked to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Last week’s referendum went hand-in-hand with municipal elections in the Netherlands in which results were fractured, with local parties doing well, as well as the eco-friendly leftist party GroenLinks, which emerged as the largest in several major cities.