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Information Should be Free
An interview with Eveline Lubbers

Eveline Lubbers is an investigative reporter and specialized activist living in Amsterdam. She co-founded Buro Jansen & Janssen and told World-Information.Org about her view on the role of information in democratic societies.

Q: You are co-founder of Buro Jansen & Janssen. What was the aim, when you established it?

A: Well, Jansen & Janssen was founded in the early eighties. At that time there was a strong squatter movement in Amsterdam and activists needed support in their confrontations with the police. There were riots in the street, but there were also attempts to infiltrate the movement. So we thought it was a good idea to study the strategies of the police and explain people about it. This was the beginning.

Q: How did you study the police’s strategies? And in which way did you communicate your findings to the activist community?

A: We set up an archive that grew very fast. We collected clippings from newspapers, but also started to read police reports and Dutch as well as foreign special magazines dealing with the subject. Moreover we wrote articles that in the beginning were mostly published in activist media. Yet, the whole thing very quickly grew into something like a general research collective. So we started to make books and published our own research with a publishing house that was founded by squatters. For instance I published a paper on how the police tried to infiltrate the activist movement and find informers.

Q: Did your research have any consequences in the public arena?

A: Well, at the end of the eighties the movement faded away and we changed into a general research office to monitor police and intelligence. Buro Jansen & Janssen started to write for mainstream media and did research for radio and television. Nowadays journalists often ask us for help. They want to know our opinion, because we are very specialized. We now do opinion articles for mainstream media that really make a difference.

Q:Was there any special event that triggered this development?

A: There was a parliamentary research commission into the war on drugs in the Netherlands. There were special police forces that had to deal with it and - well it’s a long story, but the bottom line is that they went into drugs themselves to infiltrate drug gangs. And this got out of hand. So there was a research commission which did public hearings and research for months and in the end they came out with a report of approximately 5,000 pages. But although it was a parliamentary document you had to pay a lot of money for it.

Q: So, it was not publicly available?

A: No, you had to pay NLG 1,000 to get it and there was also no index of names in the printed version so in order to be able to study it you had to buy the CD-ROM, which was another NLG 1,000. The problem with it was that in the Netherlands the state’s publishing house has the copyright not on the material, but on the layout. So you can’t just copy public material and make it available on the net. But as it was a CD-ROM the situation was different. With the help of hackers we managed to free the text from its layout and then publish it on the net. What we did not know was that at the time there was a big discussion on the availability of public material and how the government would have to use the Internet. And with our action we interfered in this debate and made front pages.

Q: Did this have consequences?

A: Well, I think it accelerated the discussion and also influenced the way the government now sees that it has to put public information on the Internet.

Q: In your opinion, does the evolution of digital media rather foster or break that kind of information monopolies?

A: It should break information monopolies. I think the (hacking) techniques available offer many possibilities that are not used often enough. In my dreams I see a net activist collective developing new tactics for online research. A Dutch activist researcher recently uncovered the internal minutes of meetings between the British government and the corporate world. The minutes reveal that government officials have allied with business in planning a campaign to defeat civil society opposition against the WTO services negotiations. These minutes were found by carefully scrutinizing a website to find pages that where no longer linked, but still available if you knew the URL. A very inspiring example!

Q: Will recent copyright developments influence the access and availability of information?

A: Yes, definitely. At Jansen & Janssen we were so happy to be able to stop the cutting and archiving of clippings from the daily newspapers. But now the police library service that provided us with assorted clippings on juridical subjects on a CD-Rom every three months, can no longer include these papers, because of copyright issues.

Q: Generally, how do you see the role of information for democratic societies?

A: All information should be free! Within the limits of privacy protection of course, but information about affairs that affect us all, about government rule and corporate practice should be available in a accessible way, analyzed and made understandable by those who provide it, or those who freed the information.

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