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Interim Injunction Proceedings Against Dutch Data Retention Act

Saturday, 06 December 2014
© Lisa S. / Shutterstock.com © Lisa S. / Shutterstock.com

A broad coalition of organizations and companies is starting interim injunction proceedings against the Dutch government. The Privacy First Foundation, internet provider BIT, the Dutch Association of Journalists and the Dutch Association of Defence Counsel among others are demanding the abolition of the Dutch Telecommunications Data Retention Act. The Dutch Council of State and the European Court of Justice have already ruled that the Act is in violation of fundamental rights that protect private life, communications and personal data. However, the Dutch government refuses to render the Telecommunications Data Retention Act inoperative.

On 8 April 2014 the European Court of Justice declared the European Data Retention Directive (2006/24/EC) invalid with retroactive effect. According to the Court, retaining communications data of everyone without any concrete suspicion is in violation of the fundamental right to privacy. Objective criteria should be applied to determine the necessity of collection and retention of data and there should be prior control from an independent body or judge. Randomly and unrestrictedly collecting metadata (traffic data) in the context of 'mass surveillance' is not permitted, according to the Court.

In the Netherlands, regulations in this area are enshrined in the Dutch Telecommunications Data Retention Act, which largely mirrors the European Data Retention Directive. The Act provides that telecommunications companies and internet providers have to retain various data regarding internet and telephone usage for at least six and at most twelve months in order for judicial authorities to be able to use those data for criminal investigation purposes. Recently the Dutch Council of State ('Raad van State') judged that the Act does not comply with fundamental rights that protect private life, communications and personal data. However, the Dutch government does not heed the advice of the Council of State and refuses to repeal the Act. Compliance with the Act will be maintained by the government.

Vincent Böhre of Privacy First: "Mass surveillance constitutes a massive violation of citizens' privacy rights. It is unacceptable that the Dutch government clings to this practice after the highest European judge has already clearly stated back in April that this privacy violation is not permitted."

Thomas Bruning, Secretary of the Dutch Association of Journalists: "Telecommunications companies and internet providers are now obliged to retain a vast amount of communications data of all citizens. This includes journalists. Companies have to disclose these data at the request of the government. There is no guarantee whatsoever for the journalistic right of non-disclosure."

"The Dutch regulations are in breach of the applicable European fundamental rights", states Fulco Blokhuis, partner at Boekx Attorneys, who has meanwhile drafted a subpoena. "This situation is as disconcerting as it is undesirable. Maintaining this Act is unlawful, both towards citizens as well as companies who are forced to stay in possession of traffic data."

Alex Bik of internet provider BIT: "When the Dutch government introduced the Act, it hid behind the argument that the introduction was simply imposed upon by Europe, but since the European Data Retention Directive has been repealed with retroactive effect, this argument all of a sudden is no longer deemed valid by the government. That is not right."

Otto Volgenant of Boekx Attorneys: "As the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten, is unwilling to abolish the Telecommunications Data Retention Act, we will request the court to either render the Act inoperative or to prohibit its application any longer. We will shortly be issuing interim injunction proceedings."

Update 12 January 2015: the interim injunction proceedings against the Dutch government pertaining to the retention of telecommunications data will take place before the district court of The Hague in a public hearing on Wednesday 18 February 2015 at 11:00 hours. Meanwhile, the renowned Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights (NJCM) has joined the coalition of claimant organizations. Click pdfHERE (pdf, in Dutch) for the subpoena, click HERE for a press release from Boekx Attorneys (in Dutch) and HERE for an article (in Dutch) which appeared on the website of Dutch newspaper Telegraaf this morning.

Update 30 January 2015: yesterday a hearing (roundtable) about the Dutch Data Retention Act took place in the Dutch House of Representatives. Click pdfHERE for a schedule of the hearing (pdf) and pdfHERE (pdf, in Dutch) for the talking points that Privacy First sent to the House of Representatives prior to the hearing (pdf). The lack of necessity and proportionality of the current Data Retention Act were the main topics that were discussed by Privacy First during the roundtable. Other aspects that were raised by Privacy First related to the chilling effect in society as well as the potential for function creep that the Act brings about.

Update 13 February 2015: today, on behalf of the State, the Dutch State Attorney submitted a Statement of Defence; click pdfHERE (pdf in Dutch, 9 MB). The admissibility of the claimant organizations will not be challenged by the Dutch government, the State Attorney told our own attorneys by telephone. Therefore the proceedings will immediately focus on the merits of the case, rather than on procedural requirements. This is a breakthrough development: in similar cases the admissibility of the claimant parties was almost always contested by the State. A crucial lawsuit concerning such admissibility (our Passport Trial against the storage of fingerprints) is currently being conducted by Privacy First against the Dutch government before the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. Privacy First is of the opinion that the recognition of admissibility by the State Attorney in the interim injunction proceedings against the Telecommunications Data Retention Act puts Privacy First in a stronger position for this and future lawsuits that revolve around the right to privacy. Moreover, in times when access to justice of individual citizens in the Netherlands is increasingly under financial pressure, the admissibility of civil society organizations such as Privacy First forms an important safeguard for a well functioning Dutch democracy under the rule of law.

Update 18 February 2015: in front of a full courtroom (many civil servants, citizens, students and journalists were in attendance), today Privacy First et al. crossed swords with the State; click pdfHERE for the plea of our attorneys (pdf in Dutch) and pdfHERE for the pleadings of the State Attorney (pdf, in Dutch). The judge listened carefully but didn't ask any questions. As yet, Wednesday 11 March 2015 has been determined as the date of the judgment.

Update 11 March 2015: in a break-through verdict today, the district court of The Hague has rendered the Dutch Data Retention Act inoperative; click HERE.

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