Today the district court of The Hague has rendered the Dutch Data Retention Act inoperative in a break-through verdict. The judge did so at the request of the Privacy First Foundation and six other organizations. This puts an end to a massive privacy violation that lasted for years: retaining the telecommunications data of everyone in the Netherlands for criminal investigation purposes, which made every Dutch citizen a potential suspect.
Broad coalition of civil society organizations
Under the 2009 Dutch Data Retention Act, the telecommunications data (telephony and internet traffic) of everyone in the Netherlands had to be retained, for 12 months and 6 months respectively, for criminal investigation purposes. In interim injunction proceedings against the Dutch government, a broad coalition of civil society organizations demanded the Act to be rendered inoperative as it violated the right to privacy. The claimant organizations were the Privacy First Foundation, the Dutch Association of Defence Counsel (NVSA), the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ), the Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights (NJCM), Internet provider BIT and telecommunications providers VOYS and SpeakUp. The case was conducted by Boekx Attorneys (Amsterdam).
According to the claimant parties, the Dutch Data Retention Act constituted a violation of fundamental rights that protect privacy, communications and personal data. This was also the view of the European Court of Justice in April last year, followed by the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State), the Dutch Data Protection Authority (College Bescherming Persoonsgegevens) and the Dutch Senate (Eerste Kamer). However, former Dutch minister of Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten, refused to withdraw the Act. Opstelten wanted to uphold the Act until a legislative change was implemented, which could have taken years. The district court in The Hague has now made short shrift of the Act by repealing it immediately.
Data retention is unlawful
On 8 April 2014, the European Court of Justice declared the EU Data Retention Directive entirely and retroactively unlawful. The Dutch Data Retention Act was almost identical to this invalid directive. According to the European Court, retaining the telecommunications data of everyone, without any well-founded suspicion, is in breach of the fundamental right to privacy. Randomly and unrestrictedly collecting 'metadata' in the context of mass surveillance is not permitted, according to the Court.
Privacy First is committed to maintaining and strengthening everyone's right to privacy, if necessary by filing lawsuits against the Dutch government. The Dutch Data Retention Act was an excellent cause for doing so, says Vincent Böhre of Privacy First: "This mass surveillance constituted a massive violation of the right to privacy of every Dutch citizen. It was unacceptable that minister Opstelten clinged to this practice after the highest European court had already clearly stated back in April that this privacy violation was not permitted. Privacy First works to promote a society in which innocent citizens are not burdened by the idea of constantly being watched. The judgment of the court in The Hague is an important step in that direction."
Privacy First expects Dutch telecommunications providers to comply with the judgment and stop retaining everyone's telecommunications data for criminal investigation purposes. In case the Dutch government decides to appeal the judgment, then Privacy First is confident about the outcome of proceedings before the Hague Court of Appeal.