Mass storage of fingerprints violates the right to privacy
Following the Court of Appeal of The Hague, today the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State) judged that municipal (‘decentral’) storage of fingerprints under the Dutch Passport Act is unlawful on account of violation of the right to privacy. The Council of State reached this conclusion in seven administrative law cases of Dutch individual citizens (supported by civil organization Vrijbit). At the start of 2014, the Court of Appeal of The Hague handed down a similar ruling in the civil Passport case by the Privacy First Foundation and 19 (other) citizens against the Dutch government. Subsequently however, our Passport trial was declared inadmissible by the Dutch Supreme Court and was redirected to the administrative judge: the Dutch Council of State. Privacy First then submitted its entire case file to the Council of State in order to reinforce the individual passport cases pending before this body. The Council of State (the supreme administrative court of the Netherlands) now rules similar to the way the Court of Appeal of The Hague has done before. Notwithstanding the later inadmissibility before the Supreme Court, the ban on the storage of everyone’s fingerprints in databases thus stands firm once again.
Faulty judgement and procedure
As was the case with the previous judgement by the Court of Appeal of The Hague, Privacy First regrets that the Council of State was unwilling to declare the storage of fingerprints unlawful on strictly principal grounds (that is, because of a lack of societal necessity, proportionality and subsidiarity), but merely on the basis of technical imperfections. Therefore, Privacy First will advise the concerned citizens to keep on litigating all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. Considering the existing Strasbourg case law, there is a high likeliness that the Netherlands will still be condemned on principal grounds on account of violation of the right to privacy (art. 8 European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR). Privacy First also expects a condemnation on account of violation of the right of access to justice and an effective legal remedy (art. 6 and 13 ECHR). After all, civil litigation against the Dutch Passport Act proved to be impossible, and administrative legal action was possible only indirectly after the rejection of individual requests for new passports or ID cards (in case the applicants refused to have their fingerprints taken). In order to obtain their current victory before the Council of State, these citizens thus have had to get by for years without passports or ID cards, with all the problems and risks this entailed.
Exceptions for conscientious objectors
In today’s judgement, the Council of State also decided that the compulsory taking of two fingerprints for a new passport applies equally to everyone and that there can be no exceptions for people who do not want to have their fingerprints taken out of conscientious objections. Privacy First is doubtful whether this verdict will stand the scrutiny of the ECtHR. Apart from a violation of the right to privacy, it seems this decision is also in breach of the freedom of conscience (art. 9 ECHR). The fact that the European Passport Regulation does not include such an exception is irrelevant as this Regulation is subordinate to the ECHR.
RFID chips and facial scans
Privacy First also deplores the fact that the Council of State was not prepared to make a critical assessment of the risks of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips (which include sensitive personal data that can be read remotely) in passports and ID cards. The same goes for the compulsory storage of facial scans in municipal databases. But these aspects, too, can still be challenged in Strasbourg.
Municipalities’ own responsibility
A small ray of hope in the judgement by the Council of State is that municipalities and mayors have their own responsibility to respect human rights (including the right to privacy) independently, even if this means independently refraining from applying national legislation because it violates higher international or European law:
"Insofar as the mayor claims that there is no possibility to deviate from the provisions (laid down in national law), the [Council of State] holds that pursuant to Article 94 of the [Dutch] Constitution, current statutory provisions within the Kingdom [of the Netherlands] do not apply if such application is not compatible with any binding provisions of treaties and of resolutions of international organizations.’’ (Source in Dutch, paragraph 6.)
This decision by the Council of State applies to all domains and could have far-reaching consequences in the future.
New ID cards for free
The ruling of the Council of State entails that for applications of new ID cards, fingerprints have been taken (and stored) on a massive scale but without a legal basis since 2009. Accordingly, Privacy First advises everyone in the possession of an ID card with fingerprints to change it (if desired) at his or her municipality for a free new one without fingerprints. If municipalities refuse to offer this service, Privacy First reserves the right to take new legal steps in this regard.
After numerous lawsuits in various European countries, the decision has finally been made: in a break-through ruling, the European Court of Justice has decided this week that a general requirement to retain telecommunications data (data retention) is unlawful because it is in violation of the right to privacy. This ruling has far-reaching consequences for surveillance legislation in all EU member States, including the Netherlands.
Previous data retention in the Netherlands
Under the 2009 Dutch Data Retention Act, the telecommunications data (telephony and internet traffic) of everyone in the Netherlands used to be retained for 12 months and 6 months, respectively, for criminal investigation purposes. This legislation stemmed from the 2006 European Data Retention Directive. However, in April 2014 the European Court of Justice declared this European Directive invalid because it violates the right to privacy. Subsequently, former Dutch minister of Security and Justice Ivo Opstelten refused to withdraw the Dutch Data Retention Act, after which a broad coalition of Dutch organizations and companies demanded in interim injunction proceedings that the Act would be rendered inoperative. 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. Boekx Attorneys in Amsterdam took care of the proceedings, and successfully so: rather uniquely (laws are seldomly rendered inoperative by a judge, let alone in interim injunction proceedings), on 11 March, 2015, the Dutch district court in The Hague repealed the entire Act at once. The Dutch government decided not to appeal the ruling, which has been final since then. Consequently, all telecom operators concerned have deleted the relevant data. In relation to criminal investigations and prosecutions, so far this does not seem to have led to any problems.
European Court makes short shrift of mass storage once and for all
Unfortunately, the April 2014 decision of the European Court left some margin for interpretation under which broad, general retention of everyone’s telecommunications data could still be allowed, for example through close judicial supervision before access and use of those data. In a Swedish and a British case about data retention, the European Court has now ensured full clarity in favour of the right to privacy of every innocent person on European territory:
"The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union must be interpreted as precluding national legislation which, for the purpose of fighting crime, provides for general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data of all subscribers and registered users relating to all means of electronic communication’’, the Court judges.
In other words: mass storage of everyone’s data for criminal investigation purposes is unlawful. After all, according to the Court this ‘‘exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society’’.
In conventional language, the Court basically says that such legislation doesn’t belong in a free democracy under the rule of law, but in a totalitatrian dictatorship instead. And this is exactly the raison d'être of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (which was inspired by universal human rights), on which the verdict of the Court is based.
Consequences for the Netherlands
Recently the current Dutch minister of Security and Justice, Ard van der Steur, has again presented to the Dutch House of Representatives a legislative proposal to reintroduce a broad, general telecommunications retention Act. Moreover, a similar legislative proposal pending in the Dutch Senate concerns the recognition and retention of number plate codes of all cars in the Netherlands (i.e. everyone’s travel movements and location data). Following the EU Court ruling, both legislative proposals are unlawful in advance on account of violation of the right to privacy. The same goes for planned mass storage of data that flow in and out of the Netherlands through large internet cables under the new Dutch Intelligence and Security Services Act (and the international exchange thereof), the possible future reintroduction of central databases with everyone’s fingerprints, national DNA databases, national records which include everyone’s financial transactions, etc. etc.
Following the EU Court ruling, the Dutch government can draw one conclusion only: both the legislative proposal that regards the new telecommunications retention Act as well as the legislative proposal that relates to the registration on a massive scale of number plate codes, are to be withdrawn this instant. Otherwise Privacy First will again enforce this in court and will do likewise with every other legislative proposal that threathens to violate the right to privacy of innocent citizens on a large scale.
Privacy First wishes you happy holidays and a privacy-friendly 2017!
In the Dutch Citizens v. Plasterk case about the international exchange of data between secret services, the coalition of citizens and organizations (including Privacy First) has explained its appeal before the Hague Court of Appeals. In its statement of appeal, which was submitted to the Court on 2 February 2016, the coalition details why the ruling of the district court of The Hague (in Dutch) is wrong.
In summary, the district court of the Hague has ruled that the collaboration and exchange of data on the basis of trust between Dutch secret services and foreign secret services (among which the American NSA) may simply be continued. According to the judge, the importance of national security is the determining factor, thereby essentially giving the Dutch AIVD (general intelligence and security service) and MIVD (military intelligence and security service) carte blanche to collect bulk data of Dutch citizens via foreign intelligence agencies without any legal protection, only because of the designation ‘national security’.
The Citizens v. Plasterk coalition deems this ruling to be in flagrant breach of the right to privacy and has lodged an appeal. It must be noted that the coalition isn’t seeking to ban the collaboration with foreign services as such. However, we find that when it comes to collaborating and receiving data, strict safeguards should be maintained. Failure to do so means that data that has been obtained by the NSA and other intelligence services in violation of Dutch law, illegally end up in the hands of Dutch intelligence services. This comes down to the laundering of data through an illegitimate U-turn.
"By using NSA data, minister Plasterk and his services are laundering illegally obtained data. This case should put an end to that", says our lawyer Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm of bureau Brandeis. Read our entire statement of appeal HERE (pdf in Dutch).
The Dutch government will first have to react to our statement of appeal in a statement of defence on appeal, after which the Hague Court of Appeals will schedule a hearing and render a ruling.
Meanwhile, our coalition has been admitted to intervene in the legal proceedings against the British government that the British organization Big Brother Watch et al. have brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). This is a significant development because as a result, the ECtHR may, at an early stage, be able to issue a verdict that is relevant to our Dutch case. Click HERE (pdf) for the recent decision on admissibility by the European Court and HERE for more information about the British case on the Court's website.
The Citizens v. Plasterk case
At the end of 2013, the Citizens v. Plasterk coalition summoned the Dutch government, represented by the Dutch minister of the Interior, Ronald Plasterk. This was prompted by Edward Snowden’s revelations about the practices of (foreign) intelligence services. The coalition demands that the Netherlands stops using data that have been obtained in violation of Dutch law.
In February 2014 the case almost led to minister Plasterk’s withdrawal from office. It had emerged that Plasterk had wrongfully informed the Dutch House of Representatives on the exchange of data between Dutch and foreign intelligence services. The Dutch services had passed on 1.8 million items of data to the Americans and not the other way around, as he had previously claimed.
In July 2014 the district court of The Hague rejected the claims of the coalition, after which the coalition lodged an appeal before the Hague Court of Appeals.
At the end of 2015 it became known that the coalition may participate in a British lawsuit before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The participating citizens in the coalition are: Rop Gonggrijp, Jeroen van Beek, Bart Nooitgedagt, Brenno de Winter and Mathieu Paapst. The participating organizations are: the Privacy First Foundation, the Dutch Association of Defence Counsel (NVSA), the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) and Internet Society Netherlands.
The case is taken care of by bureau Brandeis, in particular by our lawyers Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm and Caroline de Vries, who make use of the bureau Brandeis’s pro-bono fund.
Update 9 February, 2016: today the coalition submitted its written submissions to the European Court of Human Rights, click HERE (pdf).
"Facebook continues to breach personal data privacy rights in Europe, says a group of human rights organizations, and it demands that Facebook’s EU-US data transfers stop by February 6, 2016. Facebook has formally responded.
As previously reported, the Privacy First Foundation, Public Interest Litigation Project PILP and the Dutch Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights (collectively, “Privacy First”) sent Facebook a demand letter, to which Facebook has now replied in writing.
Facebook’s written response
Facebook responded to Privacy First’s demand letter by giving written assurances of data protection in accordance with current law–that is, those parts of the Privacy Directive that survived the ruling in Schrems, the case that invalidated Safe Harbor.
Specifically, Facebook states that “the grounds for transfer of data set out in Article 26 of the Directive remain entirely lawful,” and that it complies with “these other grounds to transfer data legally from the European Union to the United States .” Facebook further challenged the Dutch tribunal Privacy First plans to use, as lacking competence over Facebook Ireland, the party it asserts is the data controller for data of Facebook Netherlands.
Privacy First’s reply
Privacy First, in its reply through its counsel Boekx, Amsterdam, reiterated its position that the other instruments currently used as basis for EU-US data transfers (such as Standard Contractual Clauses or individual consent) are “fundamentally flawed, as these options do not resolve the problems identified by the European Court of Justice in the Schrems judgment.”
Privacy First’s reply further reserves its rights to initiate legal proceedings in the Hague “requesting a preliminary injunction and/or raising prejudicial questions with the European Court of Justice” if Facebook doesn’t stop EU-US data transfers or provide adequate protections by February 6th, 2016.
Clearly, Privacy First and its co-plaintiffs are not happy with Facebook's response. (...)
Facebook’s letter also challenges the competence of Dutch courts to hear proceedings in the Netherlands against Facebook Ireland, which it alleges is the true data controller, not Facebook Netherlands B.V. Regarding the competence issue, [Boekx] said that Dutch courts have rendered decisions in the past against both Facebook parties.
As reported, the EU and US are currently negotiating replacement of the Safe Harbor Agreement; there is a meeting of the negotiating parties scheduled for February 2nd to discuss EU-US data transfers and how to ensure protections for EU citizens in the legal uncertainties left by Schrems.
Further delays possible
Due to delay in legislation in the U.S. that may be one of the EU’s preconditions to Safe Harbor (the Judicial Redress Act), further delays in Safe Harbor resolution are expected (by some) that could take those negotiations beyond the February 6 deadline set by Privacy First. These delays could set Facebook up for proceedings that, if successful, would result in a shutdown of its EU-US data transfers. (...)"
Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisabrownlee/2016/01/27/facebook-fires-back-in-eu-privacy-dispute/#2fe9f2801d5b, 27 January 2016.
"Non siamo la pecora nera, e rispettiamo le stesse regole degli altri. Potremmo così sintetizzare il nocciolo della difesa di Facebook contro le accuse di alcune organizzazioni pro-privacy e utenti olandesi che hanno chiesto, con lettera formale, di impedire il trasferimento di dati personali degli iscritti verso gli Stati Uniti, dove risiedono molti suoi data center e molte delle sue aziende inserzioniste. Minacciando azioni legali nel caso il social network non interrompa questa pratica prima del 16 gennaio. Le radici della vicenda sono note: dalla denuncia inoltrata nel 2013 dallo studente austriaco Max Schrems, fino alla recente decisione della Corte di Giustizia dell’Unione Europea di invalidare gli accordi regolati dal Safe Harbor.Vero è che le nuove regole comunitarie travolgono non solo la creatura di Mark Zuckerberg bensì circa quattromila aziende statunitensi presenti sul Web, però è altrettanto vero che l’attenzione mediatica e le preoccupazioni si concentrano inevitabilmente su Facebook, luogo dove più di ogni altro le vite private diventano condivise. Ma anche il social network delle immagini, Instagram, e la più popolare fra le applicazioni di messaggistica, WhatsApp (entrambe proprietà dell’azienda di Menlo Park) sono coinvolti.
La lettera in questione, infatti, è stata inviata alle sedi di Facebook in California, in Olanda e in Irlanda così come alle sedi di Instagram e Whatsapp. Il mittente è uno studio legale di Amsterdam, Boekx, che parla in rappresentanza di tre associazioni pro-privacy (Stichting Privacy First, Public Interest Litigation Project e Dutch Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights) e di privati cittadini olandesi. La richiesta è, appunto, quella di interrompere il trasferimento dei dati verso gli States entro le ore 18 del gennaio, a meno di non voler incorrere in azioni legali.
Nelle parole dell’avvocato Otto Volgenant dello studio Boekx, “Vogliamo fare pressione su Facebook” e indurre Zuckerberg a pronunciarsi in merito al dibattito sulla privacy in corso nei governi di diversi Paesi. Se poi Facebook facesse ostruzionismo, la protesta degli olandesi potrebbe arrivare dapprima in un tribunale nazionale e poi da qui alla Corte Europea di Giustizia.
La replica della società californiana, arrivata tramite Forbes da un portavoce dell’azienda, Matt Steinfeld, esordisce ribadendo che il social network “utilizza i medesimi meccanismi impiegati da migliaia di altre aziende per trasferire legittimamente dati dall’Europa agli Stati Uniti e ad altri Paesi in tutto in mondo”. E poi fa una proposta: “Crediamo che il modo migliore per risolvere l’attuale dibattito sul trasferimento dei dati oltre l’oceano sia creare un nuovo patto di Safe Harbour, che garantisca adeguate tutele ai cittadini europei”. Il social network, dunque, non si sottrae alla possibilità di modifiche del regolamento ma anzi si auspica che le discussioni in corso fra organismi regolatori europei e statunitensi, e fra essi e i rispettivi governi sfocino presto in un “esito positivo”, ha dichiarato Steinfeld."
Source: http://www.ictbusiness.it/cont/news/l-attacco-olandese-e-la-difesa-facebook-non-siamo-peggio-di-altri/36065/1.html#.VoJYKfFIiUn, 17 December 2015.
"Facebook, Inc. and related entities have received a letter demanding them to stop EU-US data transfers until U.S. laws comply with the EU data protection regime, or risk lawsuit in the Netherlands. Facebook must cease transfer by 15 January 2016. The complaining parties have reserved rights to file suit if compliance is not forthcoming.
The demand and summons letter was sent today by the Boekx law firm in Amsterdam on behalf of numerous plaintiffs including:
• Privacy First Foundation (Stichting Privacy First)
• Public Interest Litigation Project PILP
• Dutch Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights
and other users of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. The letter was sent to Facebook Netherlands B.V., Facebook Ireland Limited, Facebook Inc. and Instagram LLC (California), and WhatsApp Inc. (California).
Facebook spokesperson Matt Steinfeld provided (...) the following written statement:
“Facebook uses the same mechanisms that thousands of others companies across the EU use to transfer data legally from the EU to the US, and to other countries around the world. We believe that the best solution to the on-going debate around transatlantic data transfers is for there to be a new Safe Harbor agreement with appropriate safeguards for EU citizens.”
“We understand that authorities in the EU and US are working hard to put such an agreement in place as soon as possible. We trust that these groups are engaging with their respective governments on this process to help it reach a successful conclusion.”
Lawsuit intended to pressure Facebook
Otto Volgenant of the Boekx stated to Dutch outlet RTLZ, “We want to put pressure on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg must make its voice heard in the debate about privacy, the US government has the solution for this problem.” According to Volgenant (as reported), the case would first be brought in The Hague, which could exercise its option to refer the case to the European Court of Justice.
Volgenant predicted that such referral would not be made, given the clarity of law on the topic since the recent Schrems ruling of the European Court of Justice (discussed further below).
U.S. compliant-laws required
Specifically, the demand requires that Facebook “end the current unlawful transfer of personal data from the European Union to the United States” until the U.S. adopts laws “essentially equivalent to” European data protection laws, or face lawsuit in the Netherlands. The summons gives Facebook until Friday 15 January 2016 (18:00 CET) to cease EU-US transfers, or risk having a court force it and related Facebook entities, through an injunction, to cease such transfers.
Facebook “remarkably absent” in data privacy discussions
In its letter, Boekx accuses Facebook of being “remarkably absent” in the public debate over EU-US data transfers, following the European Court of Justice decision in Schrems, which decision invalidated the so-called “Safe Harbor Agreement” between the U.S. and the E.U. and thus made such transfers illegal under E.U. law., effective immediately upon rendering of that decision. (...)
The demand letter further articulates the specifics of the Schrems decision, including that court’s conclusions that the NSA violated “European fundamental rights to respect for private life” by its “access on a generalized basis to the content of electronic communications.”
The letter concludes:
If we cannot find an amicable solution and Facebook does not refrain from further transfer of personal data of data subjects from the European Union to the United States by then, we reserve the right to initiate legal proceedings in the Netherlands and to request a preliminary injunction from the competent Dutch Court."
Today the Privacy First Foundation and three other public interest groups as well as a number of Dutch individual users of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram request Mark Zuckerberg to join the public debate following the landmark Schrems-judgment of the European Court of Justice.
On 6 October 2015, the European Court of Justice invalidated the Safe Harbour Decision, which was the basis for Facebook’s transfer of personal data from the European Union to the United States. The Grand Chamber of the Court found that the legislation of the United States fails to ensure a level of protection essentially equivalent to that guaranteed in the legal order of the European Union. The NSA has access to Facebook content of users from the European Union, without any judicial redress being available to them. The Court held that this compromises the essence of the fundamental right to privacy. These issues have not been resolved yet.
Following the judgment, Facebook continued the transfer of personal data from the European Union to the United States. Bas Filippini of Privacy First says: ‘Absent an adequate level of protection in the United States, the continued transfer of personal data is clearly incompatible with European data protection laws. Such transfer violates the rights of millions of individuals. If this is not resolved shortly, we will initiate legal action.’
To date, Facebook has been remarkably absent in the public debate that followed this landmark judgment. Ton Siedsma of Bits of Freedom says: ‘We invite Facebook to publicly engage in a meaningful and transparent dialogue aimed at finding a solution, and to pressure the authorities to find such solution. Facebook is invited to publicly share its current and intended policies and practice on data transfer.’
Today, Facebook was summoned to come up with an adequate solution ultimately by 15 January 2016. If it fails to do so, civil rights groups and a number of Dutch individuals will request the Court in The Hague to grant an injunction ordering Facebook to immediately cease the transfer of personal data to the United States. This pertains to all services of Facebook, including WhatsApp and Instagram.
‘As long as the United States fails to provide an adequate level of protection against mass surveillance, personal data may not be transferred to the United States. Taking Facebook to court emphasizes the urgency of resolving this issue.’ says Jelle Klaas of the Public Interest Litigation Project of NJCM, the Dutch section of the International Commission of Jurists. ‘Our goal is not to put the screens of millions of users to black, but to enhance the current level of privacy protection. Hopefully, a solution can be found shortly by the legislators.’
Click HERE for our entire letter of summons to Mark Zuckerberg (pdf).
Update 21 January 2016: shortly before the deadline Facebook responded to our letter of summons by fax, click HERE (pdf). According to Facebook, there is still a suitable legal basis for the transfer of personal data from the EU to the US, despite the invalidity of Safe Harbour. Privacy First et al. contest this and have today sent a response to Facebook, click HERE (pdf).
In the discussion about a newly proposed surveillance bill in England, Facebook, following our summons letter, has made it publicly clear that:
“Governments should not be able to compel the production of private communications content absent authorization from an independent and impartial judicial official. (...) Surveillance laws should not permit bulk collection of information. The principles require that the Government specifically identify the individuals or accounts to be targeted and should expressly prohibit bulk surveillance.”
However, it is precisely these aspects where, according to the European Court of Justice, the legal protection in the US is inadequate. In our letter of this afternoon, Privacy First et al. have therefore requested Facebook to present their standpoint also in the debate about mass surveillance in the US. Negotiations about this issue are currently ongoing between the EU and the US. It would be good if Facebook gets involved in this debate, in line with the standpoint it voiced in relation to the English legislative proposal.
If in the short term a solution will not be found for the fundamental privacy issues the European Court of Justice has identified, Privacy First et al. will consider bringing interim injunction proceedings before the district court of The Hague.
After years of legal proceedings against the storage of fingerprints under the Dutch Passport Act — one of the gravest privacy violations in the Netherlands — Privacy First and 19 co-plaintiffs were declared inadmissible by the Dutch Supreme Court.
Since May 2010, a large-scale lawsuit against the central storage of fingerprints under the Dutch Passport Act by Privacy First and 19 co-plaintiffs (Dutch citizens) has been under way. This so-called 'Passport Trial' was a civil case because with regard to the merits of the case, individual citizens were not able to turn to an administrative court.
Citizens could only go to an administrative court if they would first provoke an individual decision: an administrative refusal to issue a passport or ID card after an individual refusal to give one's fingerprints. Hence, they could only litigate on an administrative level if they were prepared to live without a passport or ID card for years.
Moreover, the provision in the Passport Act on the central storage of fingerprints (Article 4b) still hasn't entered into force. Therefore, the administrative courts were unauthorized to assess this provision. Moreover, contrary to other countries, a direct administrative appeal against Dutch law (Acts and statutes) isn't possible in the Netherlands.
Subsequently, an administrative court would only have been able to individually and indirectly ("exceptionally") assess this provision on the basis of higher privacy legislation after that same provision would have entered into force, that is to say, after the central storage (and exchange) of everyone's fingerprints would have become a fait accompli.
To prevent such a massive violation of privacy, only the civil courts were authorized to rule in the case of Privacy First et al. For many years civil courts have been the perfect type court for the direct assessment of national legislation on the basis of higher (privacy) legislation, even if the national legislation in question has not yet entered into force but does entail an imminent privacy violation.
As a relevant foundation, Privacy First was able to take civil action in the general interest, on behalf of the Dutch population at large. Since the early 90s this is possible via a special procedure under Article 3:305a of the Dutch Civil Code: the so-called "action of general interest." Up until May 2010, when Privacy First et al. summoned the Dutch government, the Dutch Supreme Court seemed to have given the green light for this.
However, in July 2010, the Supreme Court disregarded its earlier case law by declaring that interest groups can only turn to a civil court if individual citizens cannot pursue legal proceedings before an administrative court. But in Privacy First's Passport Trial, citizens could not apply to an administrative court. So Privacy First et al. still had a very strong case. What's more, the admissibility criteria of the Supreme Court seemed not to apply to actions of general interest, but merely to 'group actions' that are organized on behalf of a specific group of people instead of the entire population.
In February 2011, the district court of The Hague wrongly declared our Passport Trial inadmissible. This decision was subsequently appealed by Privacy First et al. Courtesy also of the pressure exerted by this appeal, the central (as well as municipal) storage of fingerprints was largely discontinued in the summer of 2011 and the taking of fingerprints for Dutch ID Cards was halted altogether at the start of 2014.
In February 2014, The Hague Court of Appeal declared Privacy First — in the general interest — admissible after all and judged that the central storage of fingerprints under the Passport Act was in violation of the right to privacy. The Dutch Minister of the Interior, Ronald Plasterk, was not amused and demanded an appeal in cassation before the Dutch Supreme Court.
Against all odds (as Privacy First had virtually all Dutch legislation, legislative history, case law and legal literature on its side), on May 22, 2015, the Dutch Supreme Court declared Privacy and its 19 co-plaintiffs inadmissible once more. According to the Supreme Court, the citizens can turn to an administrative court, which has also blocked the road to a civil court for Privacy First.
All this while in the last few years it had been established that the co-plaintiffs could not turn to an administrative court, at least not for the review of Article 4b of the Passport Act concerning the central storage of fingerprints. In innumerable administrative cases over the past few years, judges of various Dutch administrative courts have declined jurisdiction in this respect. That meant that for Privacy First as an interested organization, the road to an administrative court was equally blocked.
The fact that the Supreme Court rules as if that isn't so is simply incomprehensible. Furthermore, litigating citizens can neither be expected to get by without a passport for years, nor can they be expected to first let their privacy be violated (giving up fingerprints, even for storage) before a judge can determine whether this is legal. The fact that the Supreme Court seems to require this just the same is not just inconceivable (as well as in breach of its own case law) but also reprehensible.
Gap in the legal protection
The ruling by the Dutch Supreme Court creates a legal vacuum in the Netherlands: if citizens or organizations want massive and imminent privacy violations, such as the central storage of fingerprints under the Passport Act, to be reviewed, then they may not be able to turn to either a civil or an administrative court. This creates a gap in the legal protection that has been in place in the Netherlands over the past few decades.
The Supreme Court may now have passed on this case to the highest Dutch administrative court (the Council of State), but it's all but certain that the Council of State is able and still prepared to review the central storage of fingerprints under the Passport Act. In light of this, the Supreme Court should have waited for the ruling by the Council of State in four current and parallel administrative cases revolving around the Passport Act, prior to coming up with its ruling in Privacy First's Passport Trial. By not doing this, the Supreme Court has taken a huge risk, has prematurely stepped into the shoes of the Council of State and has put the Council of State under severe pressure.
If the Council of State were soon to judge differently than the Supreme Court (that is to say, if the Council of State would judge that it is equally unauthorized to rule in this matter), the two institutions would make an enormous blunder and would create a huge gap in the legal protection in the Netherlands, in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
Multiple ECHR violations
Privacy First et al. await the ruling of the Council of State with considerable anticipation. In the meantime, Privacy First et al. will already prepare to file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on account of a breach of Article 8 ECHR (right to privacy) and Articles 6 and 13 EHCR (right to access to justice and an effective legal remedy). Despite the Kafkaesque anti-climax before the Dutch Supreme Court, a European conviction of the Netherlands would thus be on the cards once the complaint has been filed.
Read the entire judgment by the Dutch Supreme Court HERE (in Dutch).
Click HERE for our entire case file.
A similar version of this article was published on http://www.liberties.eu/en/news/bad-day-for-privacy-in-the-netherlands.
Today, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg (EU Court) has come up with its long awaited judgment in four Dutch cases related to the storage of fingerprints under the Dutch Passport Act. The EU Court did so at the request of the Dutch Council of State. The EU Court deems the storage of fingerprints in databases to fall outside the scope of the European Passport Regulation. Therefore, the Court leaves the judicial review of such storage to national judges and the European Court of Human Rights.
Cause for the ruling
In all four Dutch cases citizens refused to give their fingerprints (and facial scans) when they requested a new Dutch passport or ID card. For this reason, their requests for a new passport or ID card were rejected. In 2012, their subsequent lawsuits ended up before the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State), which decided to ask the EU Court to clarify relevant European law (European Passport Regulation) before coming up with its own ruling. Subsequently, in 2013, the EU Court judged in a similar German case that the obligation to give ones fingerprints under the Passport Regulation is not unlawful. However, in this case, the EU Court failed to carry out a thorough review on the basis of the privacy-related legal requirements of necessity and proportionality. Moreover, the EU Court refused to merge the (more substantiated) Dutch cases with the German one, even though this was an explicit request from the Council of State. The ruling of the EU Court in the German case presented the Council of State (along with 300 million European citizens) with a disappointing fait accompli. During the case before the EU Court at the end of 2014, new arguments and new evidence in the Dutch cases fell on deaf ears: the EU Court wished not to deviate from the German case and appeared uninterested in the, by now, proven lack of necessity and proportionality of taking fingerprints (low passport fraud rates) and the enormous error rates when it comes to the biometric verification of fingerprints (25-30%). In that sense, the current ruling of the EU Court comes as no surprise to the Privacy First Foundation.
Bright spot: ID card without fingerprints
The only chink of light in the ruling of the EU Court is the confirmation that national ID cards don't fall within the scope of the European Passport Regulation. The Dutch government seemed to have already been anticipating this judgment by ending the compulsory taking of fingerprints for ID cards as of January 20, 2014. In this respect, the ruling of the EU court doesn't bring any change to the current situation in the Netherlands, but it does confirm that the introduction of ID cards without fingerprints at the start of 2014 was the right choice of the Dutch government. Most other EU Member States have never actually had ID cards with fingerprints; under the European Passport Act, the compulsory taking of fingerprints only applied to passports. The fact that in between 2009 and 2014 the Netherlands wished to go further than the rest of Europe, was therefore at its own risk.
EU Court leaves judgement on database storage of fingerprints to national judges and the European Court of Human Rights
The EU Court in Luxemburg rules that possible storage and use of fingerprints in databases doesn't fall within the scope of the European Passport Regulation and leaves the judicial review of such storage to national judges and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. However, in various (over a dozen) pending individual cases in the Netherlands against the Dutch Passport Act, administrative judges have so far always decided that such judicial review falls outside of their powers, as the relevant provisions of the Passport Act have not (yet) entered into force. It's now up to the Council of State to adjudicate on this matter. At the same time, the Dutch Supreme Court is currently looking into the collective civil Passport Trial of Privacy First and 19 co-plaintiffs (citizens), where such judicial review has already successfully been carried out by the Hague Court of Appeal and is now before the Supreme Court. In February 2014, the Hague Court of Appeal rightly judged that central storage of fingerprints is in breach of the right to privacy. In that sense the case of Privacy First is in line with the EU Court: review of database storage by a national judge, possibly followed by the European Court of Human Rights. Current individual cases before the Council of State may soon be resumed before the European Court of Human Rights as well. Privacy First hopes that this complex interaction between different judges will lead to the desired results with regard to privacy: a repeal of the taking and storage of fingerprints for passports!
Read the entire ruling of the EU Court HERE.
Update 17 April 2015: unfortunately, the ruling of the EU Court led to a lot of misleading media reporting in the Netherlands through Dutch press agency ANP (for example in Dutch national newspaper Volkskrant). Better comments can be found at the website of SOLV Attorneys, in this blog post by British professor Steve Peers and in Dutch newspaper Telegraaf, translated below:
A database with fingerprints, relinquished by people who request a new passport, seems to have come a step closer. This could be deduced from a ruling of the European Court of Justice.
The Council of State asked the judges in Luxembourg for an opinion on four cases of citizens who refused to give their fingerprints. They appealed not getting a passport because of this. In a similar German case, the EU Court ruled that the compulsory taking of fingerprints isn't unlawful under European law.
Yesterday, the EU Court ruled in the Dutch case that the storage of fingerprints is a responsibility of the Member States. So the national judge will have to review this. As the only Member State, the Netherlands wanted a central register of fingerprints: a register that would even be accessible by secret services. The Passport Act that regulated this has not yet entered into force and last year the Hague Court of Appeal ruled that the central storage is in breach of the right to privacy.
Research points out that such a database brings along many risks, varying from security leaks to improper use and criminal manipulation. This proves that the whole system is a monstrosity that should never be introduced."
Source: Telegraaf 17 April 2015, p. 2.
"A Dutch court on Wednesday struck down a law requiring telecoms and Internet service providers to store their clients' private phone and email data, saying it breached European privacy rules.
"The judge ruled that data retention is necessary and effective to combat serious crime. Dutch legislation however infringes on the individual's right to privacy and the protection of personal data," the Hague district court said.
"The law therefore contravenes the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union," the court said in a statement.
Seven groups and organisations including privacy watchdog Privacy First and the Dutch Association of Journalists dragged the Dutch state to court last month over the issue.
The Dutch court's decision comes after the European Court of Justice in April 2014 struck down the European Union law that forced telecoms operators to store private phone and email data for up to two years, judging it too invasive, despite its usefulness in combating terrorism.
Advocate General Pedro Cruiz Villalon declared the 2006 legislation illegal and told the European Union's 28 member states to take the necessary steps to withdraw it.
The 2006 directive called for EU states to store individuals' Internet, mobile telephone and text metadata -- the time, date, duration and destination, but not the content of the communications themselves -- for six months to two years.
This data could then be accessed by national intelligence and police agencies.
"The privacy rights of Dutch citizens were violated en masse by this mass surveillance," said Vincent Boehre of Privacy First.
"Privacy First fights for a society in which innocent civilians do not have to feel that they are being constantly monitored," he said on the organisation's website in response to the ruling.
"The verdict of the Hague tribunal is an important step in that direction," said Boehre."
Source: http://thepeninsulaqatar.com/news/international/326442/dutch-court-nixes-data-storage-law-says-privacy-breached, 12 March 2015.