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Dutch referendum on spy agency tapping powers result too close to call

By Toby Sterling

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch voters were on track to narrowly reject a nonbinding referendum granting spy agencies the power to install bulk taps on Internet traffic.

With 83 percent of the vote counted in the early hours of Thursday, the "no" vote was 48.9 percent, against 47.2 percent "yes."

An exit poll by national broadcaster NOS had showed the yes camp narrowly winning.

Though the referendum is nonbinding, Prime Minister Mark Rutte had vowed to take the result seriously, without committing to abide by the result.

The tapping law has already been approved by both houses of parliament.

Dubbed the "trawling law" by opponents, the legislation will let spy agencies install taps targeting an entire geographic region or avenue of communication, store information for up to three years, and share it with allied spy agencies.

Digital rights group Bits of Freedom, which had advised a "No" vote, said the law is not all bad, given that taps must be approved beforehand by an independent panel.

But the group said it still fears privacy violations and urged that the law be reconsidered.

Before the vote, Rutte said the law was needed to prevent terrorist attacks.

"It's not that our country is unsafe, it's that this law will make it safer," he said.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling; editing by David Gregorio & Shri Navaratnam)