dutch

Hague Court of Appeal: central storage of fingerprints unlawful

Tuesday, 18 February 2014
© UBE - Fotolia.com © UBE - Fotolia.com

In a groundbreaking judgment, the Hague Court of Appeal has today decided that centralised storage of fingerprints under the Dutch Passport Act is unlawful. The Privacy First Foundation and 19 co-plaintiffs (Dutch citizens) had put forward this legal issue to the Court of Appeal in a so-called 'action of general interest' ("algemeen-belangactie"). In February 2011, the district court of The Hague had declared Privacy First inadmissible. Because of this, the district court couldn't address the merits of the case. The Court of Appeal has now declared Privacy First to be admissible after all and has quashed the judgment of the district court. Moreover, the Appeals Court deems centralised storage of fingerprints under the Dutch Passport Act to be unlawful since it violates the right to privacy. Therefore it seems that centralised storage of fingerprints under the Dutch Passport Act will be shelved once and for all.

In May 2010, Privacy First et al. took the Dutch government (Ministry of Home Affairs) to court on account of the centralised storage of fingerprints under the new Dutch Passport Act. Such storage had mainly been intended to prevent small-scale identity fraud with Dutch passports (look-alike fraud).

Partly due to the pressure exerted by this lawsuit of Privacy First, central storage of fingerprints was brought to a halt in the Summer of 2011. The judgment by the Hague Court of Appeal has now made any future centralised storage of fingerprints legally impossible: the Court deems centralised storage of fingerprints an "inappropriate means" to prevent identity fraud with travel documents. According to the Court "this cannot but lead to the conclusion that the infringement upon the right to privacy caused by centralised storage of fingerprints is not justified. In that regard the district court should have awarded the claim of Privacy First." (Para. 4.4.)

This is a great victory for Privacy First and for all the citizens who have stood up against centralised storage of fingerprints under the Dutch Passport Act in recent years. The judgment by the Court also paves the way for Privacy First (and other civil society organizations) to continue to initiate lawsuits in the general interest for the preservation and promotion of the right to privacy, for example the new lawsuit by Privacy First et al. against the Dutch government on account of illegal data espionage (NSA case). Recently the Dutch State Attorney deemed Privacy First to be admissible in this case too. These developments are a great impetus for Privacy First to continue to take legal steps in the coming years for the sake of everyone's right to privacy.

Read the entire judgment by the Hague Court of Appeal HEREpdf (pdf in Dutch; for a text-version on the website of the Netherlands Judiciary, click HERE).
Click HERE for the press release by our attorneys of Bureau Brandeis.

Update 21 May 2014: the Dutch government appears to be a sore loser: earlier this week the State Attorney has lodged an appeal (in Dutch: 'cassatie') against the ruling of the Hague Court of Appeal at the Supreme Court of the Netherlands; click HEREpdf (pdf in Dutch) for the appeal summons. The Dutch government wants Privacy First to be declared inadmissible after all and calls on the Supreme Court to still declare central storage of fingerprints lawful. This must not happen. Privacy First is considering its options in its own defence.

Update 21 November 2014: today Privacy First et al. have submitted to the Supreme Court their statement of defence against the appeal summons; click HEREpdf for the document (pdf in Dutch). In the appeal, Privacy First et al. are being represented by Alt Kam Boer Attorneys in The Hague; this law-office is specialised in Supreme Court litigation. On behalf of the Dutch government (Ministry of Home Affairs) the State Attorney has today submitted a written explanation to the previous appeal summons; click HEREpdf (pdf in Dutch). The next steps could consist of a written reply and rejoinder, followed by advice (''conclusion'') from the Procurator General at the Supreme Court (to which Privacy First et al. would be able to respond) and a judgment by the Supreme Court midway through 2015.

Update 5 December 2014: today Privacy First et al. have delivered an early Christmas present to the Dutch Minister of Home Affairs: our written reply (rejoinder) to the recent explanation of the Ministry of Home Affairs to the previous appeal summons. Click HEREpdf for the document (pdf in Dutch). The Dutch government, in turn, submitted a short reply to the recent statement of defence by Privacy First et al.; click HEREpdf (pdf in Dutch). On 9 January 2015 the Supreme Court will set a date on which the Procurator General will issue his advice.

Update 12 January 2015: the Procurator General at the Supreme Court will issue his advice ("conclusion") on 10 April 2015.

Update 12 March 2015: Much earlier than expected, Advocate General Mr. Jaap Spier delivered his advice (''conclusion'') in the case to the Supreme Court on 20 February 2015; click HEREpdf (pdf in Dutch, 7 MB). Its conservative contents and tone are notable aspects of his advice. Furthermore, the Advocate General wrongfully assumes that the contested provisions of the Dutch Passport Act had never become legislation. While he upholds Privacy First's admissibility, he does so on the wrong legal grounds. Moreover, the Advocate General does not touch on the substance of the privacy issues at all, is incorrect in his view that proceedings could have taken place before an administrative judge and, erroneously, wants Privacy First et al. to still pay for the legal costs of the proceedings. In response to the advice of the Advocate General, within the formal term of two weeks Privacy First submitted a response letter ("Borgers brief") to the Supreme Court; click HEREpdf (pdf in Dutch). No such letter has been submitted by the Dutch State Attorney. Therefore, Privacy First has had the final say in this case. We will now have to wait for the Supreme Court ruling, which is expected later this year.

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