Former Fetish Model Ancilla van de Leest Is Leading the Dutch Pirate Party to Promote Privacy
According to the leader of the Dutch Pirate Party, there is a serious lack of the necessary technological knowledge in Dutch parliament.
This article was originally published on Motherboard Netherlands on the eve of the 2017 Netherlands General Election, and has been translated from its original Dutch.
Just like the Party of the Animals, the Dutch Pirate Party (Piratenpartij in Dutch) is not a single-issue party, says party leader Ancilla van de Leest in an interview at the Dutch VICE headquarters, because: "digitization affects everything."
Most people probably still think of the Pirate Party as the political mouthpiece of the hacker community – people 'who do something with computers' and preach the exotic gospel of Internet security and privacy. And they would be right.
But it's for a good reason that van de Leest keeps dropping the word 'movement', because the best way of looking at the Pirates is as an emancipatory movement of the betas, or "nerds", as van de Leest calls herself in their campaign movie. Her goal is to create more technological awareness in Dutch Parliament. [Editor's note: van de Leest was formerly a fetish model and columnist for FHM magazine under the name "Ancilla Tilla", and has been a privacy advocate for years.]
Dutch politicians mainly consist of alphas and gammas – people who have little understanding of the technological developments and are stuck in a linear reactionary mindset. Privacy, robotics, genetics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are issues that should be subjects for discussion, but are hardly on the political radar, as evidenced by nearly all election programs.
There is a serious lack of the necessary technological knowledge in Dutch Parliament, "and that's why we need nerds," van de Leest says. Today will show whether the Dutch agree: in pre-election polling, the party had one seat. [Editor's note the Netherlands has a system of proportional representation]. Just one, to put the gigantic subject of privacy, digital technology and technological process on the political map.
Motherboard: Hi Ancilla. Let's start with privacy. What do you think of the contradiction between security and privacy that many politicians seem to copy directly from Rob Bertholee, the boss of the AIVD (the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service)?
Bullshit, of course.
Privacy is a security mechanism – it means a healthy distance between citizens and powerful parties such as insurance companies or security forces, who want to make use of private data from individuals or groups who are less powerful.
If you are able to explain this so easily, then why are there so few people in the government who act on it? Why does safety win so easily over privacy?
I think it's very human to try to win even more power when you're already in a powerful position. This is an age-old tendency, and this is exactly why there is a constitutional limit imposed on power.
Not everyone in the Second Chamber [House of Representatives] is looking to get more power. How is it possible that a majority of the House is voting for the dragnet surveillance bill – a law that probably goes against the European Human Rights Law? Do they know something that I don't?
No, the opposite is true. The digital world is a new playing field. You don't just go through somebody's mail and you don't just tap someone's phone. These things are evident to all of us, but this all changes when it comes to bits and bites, because it's abstract. It's not a person who is eavesdropping on you, it's an algorithm, and there are very few people who realize what that means, or what such an algorithm even is. And the same goes for Parliament.
What are you going to do about that?
In a general sense, clarifying by using strong visual analogies. But more importantly, making clear that there is not a single subject that is not affected by technological developments. Technology should be central to any debate.
Name an example?
When Parliament is talking about logistics, transport and infrastructure, then the issue of privacy should be central to that debate. It should become a given to discuss self-propelled vehicles, sensors and cameras by the roadside, and environmental zones in large cities that scan your license plate. These all store information that could be of interest to, for example, tax authorities, who want to know where you are parking. At the moment, these matters aren't being discussed at all – or as a side note.
The health care debate can no longer be seen as being separate from computerization and the ethical debate of the use of robots within health care. There is no party who is structurally discussing this. Health insurers should be automatically linked to privacy. For example, there is a health insurance company who offers you a discount if you're a vegetarian. I'm making good use of it.
Wow, which company is that?
I'm now with the Silver Cross, I think. Now, it looks harmless enough, because I'm just telling them that I'm a vegetarian and they trust that I am telling the truth. But the moment they actually start checking my bills to see whether I've bought steak recently, we have a problem. I don't want to live in a world where I have to prove my innocence. Do you want another example?
Car insurance companies offer discounts on premiums if you are highly educated, because research apparently shows that highly educated people cause less accidents. Financially it makes sense, but in my opinion it's the first step to a world where the disadvantaged are taken advantage of even more.
According to the latest polls of Eenvandaag, you now have one virtual seat in Parliament. How are you going to convince a room full of alphas that an oil tanker should shift its course with just one seat?
You need a loudmouth in the House, I think. That has worked out very well for the Party of the Animals, too. Before they were around, animal welfare was not really a priority within Dutch politics. When they were voted into Parliament, everyone tried to laugh it off, but we're now ten years along the road and almost not a single party has included anything about animal welfare in their manifesto.
Still, most parties now seem convinced of the importance of privacy and Internet security. In other words: is the Pirate Party still necessary? According to Privacy Barometer, The Party of the Animals scores high on privacy, and so do GroenLinks and D66.
You can easily get away with minimal effort, at the moment. The Party of the Animals wasn't even present in the debate about the new Intelligence and Security Services Act. So it's easy to say you're a pro-privacy party all of a sudden, but where were you in that debate? It's pure nonsense. The House of Representatives doesn't currently have the knowledge needed to be really privacy-friendly.
What about Astrid Oosenbrug?
Astrid Oosenbrug of the Labour Party knew what she was talking about, but she is giving up the fight after 4 years, because it's just not discussed in the House. We're in the midst of a digital revolution but we're still pretending it's the nineties.
What is your biggest concern at the moment? Russian hackers? The Dutch security service? Or big companies like Facebook?
I've been really worried about voting machines for a long time now. The VVD is strongly in favor, while every single expert and every hacker and anyone who knows anything about technology is saying: "This really is the worst idea ever."
Can you name anyone?
Rob Gonggrijp of XS4ALL, Ronald Prins of Fox-IT and Arjan Kamphuis of Brunell. That is a group of people who are experts. They've come together to advise the government on this, but the government is showing very little interest. Something like: "Great advice, we'll see if we use it."
Imagine that we must question the correctness of the outcome of the elections. How can a democracy ever justify that? There is no more effective way to kill trust in a democracy – trust that is very hard to regain. The Netherlands should never get themselves in that position.
Okay, but are you arguing for technological experimentation within a direct democracy?
Certainly. In fact, we are conducting experiments in this area. In West Amsterdam, there is now a platform for residents on how to improve their neighborhood. Because nobody had done that before. Nobody cared. This all sounds quite simple and logical, but it did not exist before.
How does that work? Just by going to the community center...?
We use Loomio. This is a platform that works in a very simple way, a bit like Reddit. You posit an argument and people can upvote or downvote it. They can also make suggestions for improvement this way, which in turn get up- or downvotes. This way you quickly reach a consensus. That's how we made our party program.
You've said that the Pirate Party remains an extra-parliamentary movement in addition to a political party. What do you mean by that, and how is that different from other parties?
We leave a lot of room for the bottom-up movement, so if you have personal initiatives that you want to undertake within the Pirate Party, we will offer lots of space for that.
What kind of space?
Space to take initiative yourself.
How are you going to be finding these civilians? Micro targeting?
Online. Pub meetups.
Yes, simple meetups.
I'm not really hearing the ambition to create a national grassroots network of pirates.
What is it you're looking for?
A 'movement'; 1300 pirates is a lot, but there's a lot of room for expansion.
Yes, that should be supported by the local pirate parties. And that's happening on a big scale now in Groningen en Amsterdam.
You recently called privacy a "prerequisite to express yourself." What do you mean by that?
Well, you could compare it a bit with being a teenager and having your parents stand over your shoulder while you a reading a porn magazine. Or, well, haha, maybe that's a bit old fashioned. Porn sites!
That's not a great feeling, and everybody understands that. And yet, this is what is happening in the digital world. There are always a lot of parties watching what you are watching, what you are reading, what you're eating, and whether you are taking enough steps that day. The acceptance that this is normal is quickly gaining momentum. But we must guard against the assumption that it will always be this safe and free in the Netherlands. In fifty years, everything could be different.
What do you think are the most pressing threats to self-expression?
Metadata about people from which we can trace their sexuality can be passed on to foreign governments such as Saudi Arabia, if they should ask. I can imagine that if Erdogan starts looking for metadata on PKK fighters, they wouldn't want him to know what they are doing online.
To use for blackmail, you mean?
For example. We are living within our own bubble, in a relatively free country. But you don't have to look far to find a very different story. That's scary. In New York, you saw that Muslims were being monitored in large numbers by the NYPD at one point, without good reason. At one point they found someone who had bought a backpack and a pressure cooker in the same week [Editor's note: the bomb recipe of the Boston Marathon attack]. All the alarm bells went off.
We don't want to live in a world where you have to think about all those parties who are watching your every step, every book you read or every tweet you send, and what that will look like on your profile. The dangers of self-censorship will be great. Imagine that artists can no longer push any boundaries because an algorithm will flag them as a potential risk... What is that private army called again, that Jeremy Scahill wrote a book about?
Yes, Blackwater. They were hired [by Monsanto] to monitor activist movements of citizens. That is a very concrete example of how your data can fall into the wrong hands – into the hands of a private army. It's just fucking scary. These are the ingredients of a society where the truth is subjected to pressure because the people who are in search of the truth no longer dare to do so.
I read that China has a cyber army of 50,000 people. The Netherlands has about 150. The Pirates argue for more budget for cyber defense, but against the use of cyber weapons. How are we going to defend ourselves against cyber powers such as China with such a limited attack capability?
We're hearing a lot about cyberwar at the moment, which is something that's being pushed by our own government, but we are looking for cyberpeace.
You are saying that the military are pushing the word cyberwar?
If you say if often enough, you'll wake up one morning and it's a reality.
Brigadier general Paul Ducheine, whom I spoke to recently, uses the term cyberwar very sparingly.
I'm not sure whether that is true.
So you are not advocating for a bigger cyberarmy?
I advocate for improved detection capabilities. A lot of balls are being dropped in this area. And when you're talking about the leakage of private data – I wish that we were taking a firmer stand against that. And that's not happening at the moment.
Can you explain that?
If you go to the police because you are being digitally extorted, you get a blank stare. That's a very out-of-date response, of course, because our government expects its citizens to do everything digitally. You can't avoid using iPads in schools, so we should prepare our police forces to go with the times, too.
Invest more in education, and I'm not talking about iPads.
That's not really helping when you're facing digital extortion.
That's right, but we really need to start with the children. Kids need to know what a computer is. What it really does. That you can maybe even make it work for you. They need to learn how to program and they need to know how the Internet works. At this moment, children are mostly being raised to be tiny consumers. They are presented with an iPad to do their homework on, and were are calling it progress? No, it's just a glorified book from which the data is indexed and traded.
Should everyone learn how to program?
Do you know how to program?
No, for me it was too late. There is a fantastic example of a Technasium in Amsterdam, which has a terrible name, [but] where children are taught how to program instead of learning classical languages. A Moroccan boy recently told me with a straight face that he was programming AI which can detect tumors from data. There are already initiatives.
What does the Pirate Party intend to do to focus on these initiatives on a larger scale, so that we're left with more that a few inspiring examples here and there?
You can put the issue on the agenda of the House of Representatives. You can ask certain questions in Parliament. I would like a total ban on the trade of data from children.
How are you going to check that?
The government could be a lot smaller in a lot of places. And at the same time, we live in a world where the government hasn't changed at all.
But companies and agencies don't even know where the data is going themselves, I don't directly see a role for the government. How would you go about this?
I want to tell them where the data is going. I want to ask them questions about it. And I want to put forward serious bills to Parliament. And that's exactly what needs to happen. This needs to be fixed.
So, what do you plan to propose?
You keep your digital hands off children's data.
Thank you, Ancilla.
Correction: the English translation of this article originally misquoted van de Leest as saying "privacy affects everything," when in fact, she said "digitization". We have updated the text and regret the error.