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Constant Hijzen discusses new digital world of espionage in Dutch newspaper Trouw

On 28 December 2019, Dutch newspaper Trouw published an essay by Constant Hijzen, Assistant Professor Intelligence Studies at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs and the Institute for History. In the essay, he discusses two books on a new genre of espionage: the authors provide access into a new digital world of espionage.

The first book by Dutch journalist Huib Modderkolk opens a window into this new world by introducing the subject of hacking. In his book, Modderkolk discusses various examples of hacking and, according to Hijzen, clearly demonstrates how easy it is to hack into the overall infrastructure on which our daily lives have been built. How to best come to terms with the vulnerabilities of the digital world, however, is a question that remains unanswered.

The second book, an autobiography by the American whistle-blower Edward Snowden, does provide an answer to that question: we should resist the surveillance instead of accepting it. The surveillance operations that are discussed by Snowden have come into being because secret services started collecting all data on communication concerning our daily lives, also known as meta-data. His autobiography serves as a justification for revealing those operations.

Terrorism and digitalisation

In order to determine whether both Modderkolk and Snowden were painting a realistic picture, Hijzen took a closer look at the literature. Hijzen notes that intelligence and security services have been collecting meta-data for a long time. In the past, it was something that took place behind the scenes but recently it has become a more public matter as a result of two big developments: digitalisation and terrorism. Governments are noticing the deployment of the latest digital technologies by hostile states, armies, criminals and terrorists and, in order to combat these opponents, governments feel pressurized to do the same. In order to protect their citizens, governments are increasingly invading the privacy of those citizens, which has benefited their ability to successfully track down individuals and groups who are planning attacks. According to Hijzen, both Modderkolk and Snowden fail to offer suggestions on how to deal with the government's data collection. Should, for instance, a public debate on privacy be held? Hijzen writes that neither Modderkolk nor Snowden has a clear opinion on the subject and states that a new person willing to inform the public on the digital world 'should make themselves known and come up with a solution on how to deal with this.'


Read the full article (in Dutch) here. 

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