Since 2013, the Dutch Association of General Practitioners has, in an essential civil case, been litigating against the private successor of the Dutch Electronic Health Record (Elektronisch Patiëntendossier, EPD): the National Switch Point (Landelijk Schakelpunt, LSP). At the end of last week, the Dutch Supreme Court decided that, for the time being, the LSP is not in violation of current privacy law. However, the Supreme Court has laid down in its judgment that the LSP will soon have to comply with the legislative requirement of privacy-by-design. This constitutes an important precedent and raises the bar with a view to the future.
Private relaunch of EPD: National Switch Point
In April 2011, the Dutch Senate unanimously rejected the EPD, primarily on account of privacy objections. However, almost directly afterwards, various market participants (among which health insurance companies) made sure there was a relaunch of the same EPD in private form: the LSP, intended for the large-scale, central exchange of medical data. Since then, the LSP has been introduced nationally and many practitioners have aligned themselves with it, oftentimes under pressure of health insurers. Millions of people in the Netherlands have given their ‘consent’ to the exchange of their medical records via the LSP. However, this ‘consent’ is so broad and general, it’s virtually impossible to deem it lawful. This was one of the main objections the court case of the Association of General Practitioners against the LSP revolved around. Other objections against the LSP are related to the fact that its architecture is inherently insecure and in breach of privacy. Through the LSP, every connected medical record is accessible for thousands of health care providers. This is in violation of the right to privacy of patients and the medical confidentiality of treating physicians. What’s more, there is no privacy-by-design, for example through end-to-end encryption. The LSP is basically as leaky as a sieve, which means that it’s ideal for function creep and possible abuse by malicious actors.
Specific Consent Campaign
Over the last couple of years, Privacy First has repeatedly raised the alarm about this in the media. We have brought the issue to the attention even of the United Nations Human Rights Council. In April 2014, a large scale Internet campaign was launched on the initiative of Privacy First and the Dutch Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights (Platform Bescherming Burgerrechten) in order to retain and enhance the right to medical confidentiality: www.SpecifiekeToestemming.nl. Ever since, this campaign is being supported by numerous civil organizations, healthcare providers and scholars. The essence of the campaign is that specific consent should (again) become the leading principle when it comes to the exchange of medical data. In case of specific consent, prior to sharing medical data, clients have to be able to decide whether or not, and if so, which data to share with which healthcare providers and for which purposes. This minimizes risks and enables patients to control the exchange of their medical data. This is in contrast to the generic consent that applies to the LSP. In the case of generic consent, it is unforeseeable who can access, use and exchange someone’s medical data. In this respect, generic consent is in contravention of two classic privacy principles: the purpose limitation principle and the right to free, prior and fully informed consent for the processing of personal data.
Privacy by design
Courtesy also of the pressure exerted by our campaign SpecifiekeToestemming.nl, the Dutch legislative proposal Clients’ Rights in relation to the processing of data in healthcare (legislative proposal 33509), was strenghtened by the House of Representatives in 2014 and was adopted by the Senate in 2016 as a result of two crucial motions: 1) the motion Bredenoord (D66) about the further elaboration of data-protection-by-design as the starting point for the electronic processing of medical data and 2) the motion Teunissen (Party for the Animals) related to keeping medical records accessible on a decentral (instead of a central) level. Under the new law, specific (‘specified’) consent is obligatory. This should now be implemented in all existing and future systems for the exchange of medical data, including the LSP. Moreover, privacy-by-design will become an inexorable legal duty under the new European General Protection Data Regulation (GDPR), that is to say, privacy and data protection should be incorporated in all relevant hardware and software from the very first design. In this context, there have been several developments on the Dutch market in recent years, all of which indicate that both specific consent as well as privacy-by-design are indeed becoming standards in new systems. A prime example of this in a medical context is Whitebox Systems, which won a Dutch National Privacy Innovation Award in 2015 already.
Court case of Association of General Practitioners
Since March 2013, the Dutch Association of General Practitioners (Vereniging Praktijkhoudende Huisartsen, VPH) has been litigating in a large-scale civil case against the private administrator of the LSP: the Association of Healthcare Providers for Healthcare Communication (Vereniging van zorgaanbieders voor zorgcommunicatie, VZVZ). Following unsatisfactory rulings by the district court of Utrecht and the Arnhem Court of Appeal, VPH appealed before the Dutch Supreme Court at the end of 2016. Since then, this case has, on the recommendation of Privacy First, received pro bono support from law firm Houthoff Buruma. As amicus curiae, Privacy First and the Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights filed a letter (PDF) with the Supreme Court in support of the general practitioners and in line with our joint campaign SpecifiekeToestemming.nl. In her conclusion, the Advocate general of the Supreme Court referred extensively to the amicus curiae letter. On 1 December 2016, the Supreme Court finally came up with its ruling. Regrettably, the Supreme Court by and large agreed with the line of reasoning of the Arnhem Court of Appeal. Privacy First cannot help thinking that the LSP (even before the Supreme Court) is apparently too big too fail: by now this faulty system has grown to the extend that no one dares to declare it unlawful. There is, however, an important positive note, which can be found in the final consideration of the Supreme Court:
‘‘[The Court has] acknowledged that the healthcare infrastructure can be designed in such a way that a clearer distinction can be made between (sorts of) data and (categories of) healthcare providers and, particularly, in such a way that the exchange of data on the basis of consent can beforehand be limited to cases of urgency. The Court takes the view that such infrastructure would be better in line with the principles of the Privacy Directive and the Personal Data Protection Act, but that it could not have been demanded from VZVZ at the time of the contested ruling. According to the Court, VZVZ can be expected, however, to alter its system offering greater freedom of choice, as soon as this is technically possible and feasible.
These considerations are not incomprehensible. It is worthwhile noting that, considering (...) the regulatory changes and VZVZ’s ambitions in relation to the system (...), privacy by design and privacy by default as explicit points of departure (art. 25, paragraphs 1 and 2 General Data Protection Regulation), is what the Court can reasonably expect from VZVZ.’' (5.4.4)
Just like the Arnhem Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court clearly homes in on the implementation of specific consent and privacy-by-design when it comes to the LSP. The Supreme Court thereby creates a positive precedent which will set the scene for the future, also in a broader sense. Privacy First will continue to actively follow the developments in this case and, if necessary, will not hesitate to bring certain aspects to the attention of the courts once more.
HERE you find the amicus curiae letter written by Privacy First and the Dutch Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights (pdf in Dutch).
Comments from the Dutch Association of General Practitioners: http://www.vphuisartsen.nl/nieuws/cassatieberoep-vphuisartsen-verloren-toch-winst/
Comments from SpecifiekeToestemming.nl: http://specifieketoestemming.nl/werk-aan-de-winkel-na-teleurstellend-vonnis-over-lsp/.
The Dutch government and Parliament aim to quickly introduce the privacy-violating Tapping law. A coalition of privacy advocates will start interim injunction proceedings to prevent this from happening.
Implementation of unaltered Tapping law imminent
In recent months, there has been a thorough public debate in the Netherlands about the new Dutch Intelligence and Security Services Act, the so-called ‘Tapping law’. In a referendum that was held on 21 March 2018, a majority of the Dutch citizenry voted AGAINST this act. In response to this, the Dutch government has promised only a few minor, superficial policy changes as well as a few non-fundamental legislative amendments. Both the Dutch government and the House of Representatives have with full intent pushed for a prompt entry into force of the Tapping law in its unaltered form, as per 1 May to be exact. The envisaged legislative amendments will be presented by the government only after the summer. Regrettably, a motion to postpone the implementation of the Tapping law until after these legislative amendments have been discussed, was yesterday repealed by the House of Representatives. With that, it seems Parliament has had its say and it is now again up to society to make a move.
Interim injunction proceedings
It is Privacy First’s established policy to try to prevent massive privacy violations. Unmistakeably, the implementation of the current Tapping law is a massive privacy breach, because as a result of it, there will be large-scale tapping into the Internet traffic of innocent citizens and, moreover, the data of innocent citizens will be exchanged with foreign secret services without first being evaluated. This is a blatant violation of the right to privacy. Therefore, we cannot wait for any possible legislative amendments that serve to ‘rectify retrospectively’. After all, by that time the violations will have already occurred. Today, a coalition of Privacy First and various other civil organizations and companies urge the government to postpone the introduction of the Tapping law (or at least those parts of it that constitute the gravest privacy violations) until all legislative amendments have been discussed in Parliament. In case the government refuses this request, our coalition will not hesitate to start interim injunction proceedings in order to enforce the postponement of the Tapping law before court.
Alongside Privacy First, the coalition that has been created for these proceedings is comprised of the Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights (NJCM), Bits of Freedom, the Dutch Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers (NVSA), the Dutch Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights, Free Press Unlimited, BIT, Voys, Speakup, Greenpeace International, Waag Society and Mijndomein Hosting. The case is taken care of by Boekx Attorneys and is coordinated by the Public Interest Litigation Project (PILP) of the Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights. Apart from said interim injunction proceedings, since March 2017 Privacy First and other organizations are preparing a larger scale lawsuit in order for multiple parts of the Tapping law to be declared unlawful as it contravenes international and European privacy law.
Today, on behalf of the coalition, our attorneys will send a letter to the Dutch government (the ministers of the Interior and Defence) requesting the postponement of the implementation of the Tapping law. The government will have the opportunity to respond to this request until Friday, 20 April.
Update 20 April 2018: the government has rejected the appeal of the coalition. The coalition will now continue preparing interim injunction proceedings.
Update 17 May 2018: today the coalition summons has been sent to the Dutch state attorney; click HERE for the full version (pdf in Dutch). The summary proceedings will take place at the District Court of The Hague on Thursday 7 June 2018, 10.00 am - 12.00 pm CET.
Update 7 June 2018: this morning the hearing took place before the District Court of The Hague; click HERE for the pleading of our attorneys (pdf in Dutch). The court is expected to deliver a ruling on Tuesday, 26 June 2018.
Update 26 June 2018: to the great disappointment of Privacy First, today the District Court of The Hague has unfortunately rejected the case. Find the complete ruling (in Dutch) HERE. From a legal point of view, the bar was set high in these interim injunction proceedings: in order to be able to win our case, the judge had to declare the Tapping law ‘unequivocally ineffective’ on account of blatant (unequivocal) violation of international or European privacy law. However, the court ruling reads like a foregone conclusion in favor of the State, not least because various objections of our coalition have remained unidentified. That being said, it needs to be stressed (as the court itself does too), that this ruling constitutes only a preliminary opinion and that a thorough (‘full’) review was lacking in this case.
The coalition of organizations that has initiated these proceedings regrets the judgment. In view also of the result of the referendum, the coalition is of the opinion that the government should have waited to introduce the contested parts of the Tapping law until the parliamentary legislative process in response to the referendum is finished. Introducing the Tapping law unchanged on 1 May 2018 before proposing amendments at a later stage (after the summer) is and remains incorrect.
The coalition will soon discuss possible follow-up legal action.
The Dutch citizenry has rejected the new Dutch Intelligence and Security Services Act. This act will now have the be amended. If not, legal action will be pursued.
Historic red line
Wednesday 21 March 2018 is a historic day: for the first time ever, the populace of a nation has spoken out against a law on intelligence services in a referendum. In this referendum, the Dutch had the chance to cast their ballots on the new Dutch Intelligence and Security Services Act, better known as the ‘Tapping law’. By now, it is known that a clear majority is AGAINST the law. Privacy First considers this as a historic victory and hopes that, as a result, similar developments will unfold in other countries: developments that contravene mass surveillance and the creation of controlled societies, and that lead to better legislation with true respect for the liberty of innocent citizens.
Objections against the Tapping law
The main objections of Privacy First against the Tapping law relate to the fact that it authorizes not only large-scale tapping into the Internet traffic and communications of innocent citizens, but also allows for the storage of these data for many years and the unsupervised exchange of these data with foreign secret services. These and other concerns of Privacy First have been listed in alphabetical order. The liberty-restricting Tapping law should not be viewed in isolation, but is part of a wider negative trend, as can be read in a recent column (in Dutch) by Privacy First chairman Bas Filippini.
Right from the very start, Privacy First has supported the organization of the Dutch referendum against the Tapping law. Alongside Privacy First, there are numerous other civil organizations that have been very active over the past few months to inform the citizenry about the Act. Most of the work, however, has been done by the referendum instigators: the students of the University of Amsterdam who, at the end 2017, collected enough signatures to make this referendum possible. For this unique achievement, Privacy First gave them a Dutch Privacy Award at the start of this year. Privacy First has recently called on all political parties at municipal level to take a stand against the Tapping law. Furthermore, through public debates, advertisements and social media and through interviews on the radio, on television and in newspapers, we have been as active as possible to create a critical mass. Moreover, Privacy First organized a public debate about the Tapping law in Amsterdam. It featured various renowned speakers, among them our attorney Otto Volgenant and the Dutch National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism and Security Dick Schoof. This debate (in Dutch) has been broadcasted on NPO Politiek several times and can also be viewed on our website and on YouTube. Even according to advocates of the Tapping law, this referendum was characterized by a substantive discussion among critical and well-informed members of the public. It is also in this regard that the referendum can be called a great success, a bright day for democracy and something that has increased general awareness about privacy in the Netherlands. After today, abolishing the referendum, which is what the Dutch government intends to do, should really be out of the question.
The law should be improved. Otherwise there will be legal action.
The consequences of the Dutch referendum about the Tapping law are clear: the law should be modified and improved immediately. If not, Privacy First and various other plaintiffs (organizations) will start a large-scale lawsuit with the express purpose of having various parts of the Act declared unlawful and rendered inoperative by a judge. In 2015, Privacy First and coalition partners succeeded in suspending the Dutch Data Retention Act in the same way. In recent years, Privacy First has on several occasions warned the Dutch government as well as both houses of Dutch Parliament that a similar lawsuit against the Tapping law would be imminent. The result of the current referendum has bolstered our position enormously. By now, the summons against the government has been prepared and our attorneys are ready to litigate. The choice is up to the government: change course or back down!
The Privacy First Foundation hereby publishes its 2016 annual report (PDF file), in which you can read everything about our main activities in 2016, including our court cases, our lobbying and our public events. The Privacy First organization currently finds itself in an important growth phase. As the significance of adequate privacy protection in our information society becomes ever greater and more urgent, the importance of a strong and powerful organization like Privacy First continues to rise correspondingly. Your support as a donor is and remains indispensable! Please consider becoming a Privacy First donor!
"Twelve organizations teamed up to file a lawsuit to stop the implementation of a new data mining law in the Netherlands. The new law was adopted by the Dutch Senate on Tuesday and gives the intelligence services more capabilities to spy on internet traffic on a large scale.
"We trust that the Dutch judges will pull the brake and say: this law goes too far", human rights lawyer Jelle Klaas, who is representing the coalition of organizations in their lawsuit, said to RTL Nieuws. The coalition includes the Public Interest Litigation Project, civil rights organization Privacy First, the Dutch Association of Journalists, the Dutch Association of Criminal Law Attorneys and the Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights.
According to the organizations, this law is a serious violation of Dutch citizens' privacy. The case will first be presented to a Dutch court, who will test it against the European Convention of Human Rights. If the Dutch court rules against the organizations, they will take it to the European Court.
Klaas is currently preparing the case. He expects that the lawsuit will only actually start after the new law is implemented on January 1st, 2018, but he hopes it happens earlier."
Source: http://nltimes.nl/2017/07/12/lawsuit-started-new-dutch-data-mining-law, 12 July 2017.
Tomorrow morning the Netherlands will be examined in Geneva by the highest human rights body in the world: the United Nations Human Rights Council. Since 2008, the Human Rights Council reviews the human rights situation in each UN Member State once every five years. This procedure is called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
Privacy First shadow report
During the previous two UPR sessions in 2008 and 2012, the Netherlands endured a fair amount of criticism. At the moment, the perspectives with regard to privacy in the Netherlands are worse than they’ve ever been before. This is reason for Privacy First to actively bring a number of issues to the attention of the UN. Privacy First did so in September 2016 (a week prior to the UN deadline), through a so-called shadow report: a report in which civil society organizations express their concerns about certain issues. (It’s worth pointing out that the Human Rights Council imposes rigorous requirements on these reports, a strict word limit being one of them.) UN diplomats rely on these reports in order to properly carry out their job. Otherwise, they would depend on one-sided State-written reports that mostly provide a far too optimistic view. So Privacy First submitted its own report about the Netherlands (pdf), which includes the following recommendations:
Better opportunities in the Netherlands for civil society organizations to collectively institute legal proceedings.
Introduction of constitutional review of laws by the Dutch judiciary.
Better legislation pertaining to profiling and datamining.
No introduction of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) as is currently being envisaged.
Suspension of the unregulated border control system @MIGO-BORAS.
No reintroduction of large scale data retention (general Data Retention Act).
No mass surveillance under the new Intelligence and Security Services Act and closer judicial supervision over secret services.
Withdrawal of the Computer Criminality Act III , which will allow the Dutch police to hack into any ICT device.
A voluntary and regionally organized (instead of a national) Electronic Health Record system with privacy by design.
Introduction of an anonymous public transport chip card that is truly anonymous.
Privacy First did not sent its report only to the Human Rights Council but also forwarded it to all the foreign embassies in The Hague. Consequently, Privacy First had extensive (confidential) meetings in recent months with the embassies of Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Chili, Germany, Greece and Tanzania. The positions of our interlocutors varied from senior diplomats to ambassadors. Furthermore, Privacy First received positive reactions to its report from the embassies of Mexico, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Moreover, several passages from our report were integrated in the UN summary of the overall human rights situation in the Netherlands; click HERE ('Summary of stakeholders' information', par. 47-50).
Our efforts will hopefully prove to have been effective tomorrow. However, this cannot be guaranteed as it concerns an inter-State, diplomatic process and many issues in our report (and in recent talks) are sensitive subjects in countless other UN Member States as well.
UN Human Rights Committee
In December 2016, Privacy First submitted a similar report to the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva. This Committee periodically reviews the compliance of the Netherlands with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Partly as a result of this report, last week the Committee put the Intelligence and Security Services Act, camera system @MIGO-BORAS and the Data Retention Act among other things, on the agenda for the upcoming Dutch session in 2018 (see par. 11, 27).
We hope that our input will be used by both the UN Human Rights Council as well as the UN Human Rights Committee and that it will lead to constructive criticism and internationally exchangeable best practices.
The Dutch UPR session will take place tomorrow between 9am and 12.30pm and can be followed live online.
Update 10 May 2017: during the UPR session in Geneva today, the Dutch government delegation (led by Dutch Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Plasterk) received critical recommendations on human rights and privacy in relation to counter-terrorism by Canada, Germany, Hungary, Mexico and Russia. The entire UPR session can be viewed HERE. Publication of all recommendations by the UN Human Rights Council follows May 12th.
Update 12 May 2017: Today all recommendations to the Netherlands have been published by the UN Human Rights Council, click HERE (pdf). Useful recommendations to the Netherlands regarding the right to privacy were made by Germany, Canada, Spain, Hungary, Mexico and Russia, see paras. 5.29, 5.30, 5.113, 5.121, 5.128 & 5.129. You can find these recommendations below. Further comments by Privacy First will follow.
Extend the National Action Plan on Human Rights to cover all relevant human rights issues, including counter-terrorism, government surveillance, migration and human rights education (Germany);
Extend the National Action Plan on Human Rights, published in 2013 to cover all relevant human rights issues, including respect for human rights while countering terrorism, and ensure independent monitoring and evaluation of the Action Plan (Hungary);
Review any adopted or proposed counter-terrorism legislation, policies, or programs to provide adequate safeguards against human rights violations and minimize any possible stigmatizing effect such measures might have on certain segments of the population (Canada);
Take necessary measures to ensure that the collection and maintenance of data for criminal [investigation] purposes does not entail massive surveillance of innocent persons (Spain);
Adopt and implement specific legislation on collection, use and accumulation of meta-data and individual profiles, including in security and anti-terrorist activities, guaranteeing the right to privacy, transparency, accountability, and the right to decide on the use, correction and deletion of personal data (Mexico);
Ensure the protection of private life and prevent cases of unwarranted access of special agencies in personal information of citizens in the Internet that have no connection with any illegal actions (Russian Federation). [sic]
Update 26 May 2017: a more comprehensive UN report of the UPR session has now been published (including the 'interactive dialogue' between UN Member States and the Netherlands); click HERE (pdf). In September this year, the Dutch government will announce which recommendations it will accept and implement.
On November 2nd 2016, the Dutch House of Representatives will address a controversial legislative proposal that will introduce four week storage of the travel movements of all motorists in the Netherlands. In case both chambers of Dutch Parliament adopt this proposal, Privacy First will try to overturn this in court.
Large scale breach of privacy
It is Privacy First’s constant policy to challenge large scale privacy violations in court and have them declared unlawful. Privacy First successfully did so with the central storage of everyone’s fingerprints under the Dutch Passport Act and the storage of everyone’s communications data under the Dutch Telecommunications Retention Act. A current and similar legislative proposal that lends itself for another major lawsuit is legislative proposal 33542 (in Dutch) of the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice, Ard van der Steur, in relation to Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). Under this legislative proposal, the number plate codes of all motorists in the Netherlands, i.e. everyone’s travel movements, will be collected through camera surveillance and stored for four weeks in police databases for criminal investigation purposes. As a result, every motorist will become a potential suspect. This is a completely unnecessary, wholly disproportionate and ineffective measure. Therefore the proposal is in breach of the right to privacy and thus unlawful.
The current ANPR legislative proposal was already submitted to the Dutch House of Representatives in February 2013 by the then Minister of Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten. Before that, in 2010, Opstelten’s predecessor Hirsch Ballin had the intention to submit a similar proposal, albeit with a storage period of 10 days. However, back then the House of Representatives declared this subject to be controversial. Opstelten and Van der Steur have thus now taken things a few steps further. Due to privacy concerns, the parliamentary scrutiny of this proposal was at a standstill for several years, but now seems to be reactivated and even reinforced through a six-fold increase of the proposed retention period, courtesy of the ruling parties VVD and PvdA.
Under current Dutch national law, ANPR data of innocent citizens must be erased within 24 hours. In the eyes of the Dutch Data Protection Authority (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens, AP), all number plate codes that are not suspect (so-called ‘no-hits’) are to be removed from relevant databases immediately. Van der Steur’s plan to also store the number plate codes of unsuspected citizens for four weeks directly flies in the face of this. VVD and PvdA are even willing to increase this retention period to six months. The inevitable consequence, a haystack of data, would constitute a blatant violation of the right to privacy of every motorist. Any possible judicial oversight of the use of these data would do nothing to alter this.
UN Human Rights Council
In recent years, Privacy First has repeatedly expressed this position to both the House of Representatives (standing committee on Security and Justice) as well as to relevant MPs personally. Privacy First has also made its stance clear in personal meetings with Minister Opstelten (July 2012) and Minister Van der Steur (July 2014, at that time still a VVD MP). Moreover, Privacy First has recently raised this issue with the United Nations. In May 2017, the Dutch government can be held accountable for this at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
In case both the House of Representatives and the Dutch Senate will adopt the ANPR legislative proposal in its current form, Privacy First (in a broad coalition together with other civil organizations) will immediately summon the Dutch government in order to render the law inoperative on account of violation of the right to privacy. If necessary, Privacy First and co-plaintiffs will litigate all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Considering the European and Dutch case law on the subject, Privacy First rates its chances of legal success very high.
Update 20 December 2018: today the Dutch government has announced that the ANPR Act will enter into force on 1 January 2019. The summary proceedings of Privacy First against the ANPR Act will soon take place at the District Court of The Hague.
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!
Privacy First New Year’s column
Looking back on 2016, Privacy First perceives a renewed attack on our democratic constitutional State from within. Incident-driven politics based on the everyday humdrum prevails and the Dutch government’s frenzy efforts to control the masses is relentless, arrogant and driven by industry and political lobbying. The democratic principles of our constitutional State are being lost out of sight ever more while the reversion of legal principles has become commonplace. Every (potential) attack thus becomes an attack on our civil rights.
Current constitutional State unable to defend itself
Barely a single day has gone past in the current mediacracy and governors without any historical or cultural awareness hand us, our children and our future over to a new electronic dictatorship fenced off by 4G masts. Citizens who autonomously seek to inform themselves have become ‘populists that spread fake news’. It’s not just the government that has lost its way, but so have the mainstream media, so it seems. The model characterized by fear, hate and control adopted by many authoritarian states headed by a strong leader is increasingly seen as the way to go.
Privacy First has said it before but will reiterate: we are of the opinion that State terrorists who continuously change legislation restricting civil liberties are ultimately much more harmful to our society than a single ‘street terrorist’, however terrible and shocking an attack is for those directly involved. The galling thing is that our constitutional State cannot adequately defend itself against the erosion of democratic principles from within: among other things, there is a lack of independent review of our Constitution. Therefore we are very happy that the European Court of Justice has recently ruled all forms of trawl net technology unlawful in advance. A great verdict that has far-reaching consequences for the State terrorists among our politicians and civil servants. A clear line in the sand.
Our democratic constitutional State came into existence out of the 19th century way of thinking and will have to be reshaped through a public debate, provided this is done taking into account the basic principles of living together - a human experience that goes back thousands of years. Love, trust en freedom are fundamental pillars. Privacy First discerns a number of changes over the past 150 years to which our constitutional State has no adequate answer, if any answer at all. These changes will have to be integrated into a newly structured democratic constitutional State which will have to be partly parliamentary and partly shared. In other words: the democratic foundation is there, but will have to be adapted to the desires and developments of our time.
Towards a Shared Democracy: adjusting parliamentary democracy to our present time
Privacy First calls on (and challenges, if necessary) every Dutch citizen to participate in a broad public discussion in order to shape a democracy 3.0. After Athens (1.0) and our parliamentary democracy from the 19th century onwards (2.0), in our eyes it’s time for the concept of a Shared Democracy (3.0), which is both a disruptive way of thinking as well as a social model for which we identify seven big drivers that help adjust our current 19th century system. Privacy First notices that these seven drivers are currently undermining our model from the inside and the outside. But by thinking differently, one will find that these pillars also offer an opportunity to move towards a new form for the future: the so-called Shared Democracy.
1. Changing role of the media; towards a mediacracy
Originally, in the 19th century model, the media didn’t yet have the scale and level of outreach today’s media have. The influence of the media has become large to the extent it will have to be one of the pillars of the future Shared Democracy.
2. Changing role of citizens
The enormous financial and social emancipation, the elevated level of education and the individualization of citizens is currently leading to huge tensions in the democracy of parliamentary representation. As part of the old way of thinking, citizens are still regarded as an unassertive, inferior, necessary evil. However, citizens want to have decision-making power on numerous issues and this – supported by the newest technologies and means of communication - will have to be structurally implemented in the Shared Democracy on the basis of various structures of representation and participatory leadership based on personal responsibility, an area in which politics and the government are still falling far behind in their relationship with citizens.
3. Scientific, technological and information revolution
These revolutions create new opportunities and offer an almost real-time insight in the developments and events within society. Moreover, the internet and associated infrastructures enable completely new forms of exchange and marketplaces of ideas and decisions. This happens on a worldwide scale between like-minded people and people who hold different views. Where supply and demand are ill-aligned, new services that have a disruptive effect on old structures pop up. Think of the clear imbalance between citizens and politics. A solution for that problem can be found in completely new and invigorating systems and structures, set up with an open and free attitude, with privacy by design enshrined in legislation and with the application of advanced technology - all elements that distinguishes the Shared Democracy.
4. Unrestrained proliferation of public authorities
The house is ready to move into, but the contractor keeps coming back every day to see whether there are still tasks to be done... likewise our government exerts its influence on our daily life and on today’s economy. The unrestrained proliferation of public authorities has got to stop immediately and the government has to be brought back to normal proportions, in line with a standard that has yet to be established. By now, citizens serve the government instead of the other way around. The power of (central) public authorities is no longer commensurate with those of individual citizens. A key trait of the Shared Democracy will be the size, power and scope of the government.
5. Lifelong professional politicians
Another thing the founders of the 19th century model didn’t take into account (despite the seperation of powers) is the fact that many current (national) representatives are fulltime politicians, some of whom carry out public sector activities quite directly related to their political function. Particularly these latter ones have lost all connection to society and virtually live off taxpayers’ money without any risks. In the Shared Democracy we envisage, we advocate that representatives of citizens make clear choices and are in favour of all possible mixed forms of citizens and representatives in order to create a much larger engagement and responsibility among individual citizens when it comes to being active politically.
6. Financial sector, upscaling and mass control
The centralization and management of financial flows disconnected from the underlying value, erodes both the economy and society. The human dimension is disappearing into the background in upscaling and efficiency models dominated by financial flows. By introducing mantras such as ‘cash is criminal’, paying anonymously is being phased out while bank runs that could endanger and destabilize the system are being prevented. Here too, the web continually gets tighter around citizens and money no longer belongs to them, but to banks and the government. With a view to the future and on the basis of current and future technological possibilities, in the Shared Democracy, ownership relationships and the right to anonymous means of payment will have to be firmly embedded in law.
7. Supranational elite of individuals and companies
One of the effects of globalization is the rise of a large group of supranational companies and individuals that are disconnected from their nation-states and societies, benefitting from the rights they have but not fulfilling the duties that society equally brings along. Now that information and power are concentrated within a few very large, global conglomerates, there are many financial corporations and companies that have become larger than nation-states. The intransparent power of lobbygroups backing these conglomerates thrives under the old, authoritarian pyramid structure of centralized political representation. In the Shared Democracy, special attention will have to go out to democratic shaping and modelling on all levels, while the centralized and decentralized power structures have to be continually in balance and be measurable with the most advanced technology.
How will the Shared Democracy deal with all this? How much more freedom are we prepared to give up for the sake of (false) security? 100% security = 0% freedom. How are we going to restructure our society and democratic system in order to hold on to our principles with the seven drivers of development in mind? And on which scale are we willing to do so?
To better define these questions and look for answers, Privacy First will organize a New Year's Reception on 19 January 2017, at 7:30 pm in the Volkshotel in Amsterdam. The reception (in Dutch) will revolve around the Shared Democracy.
Privacy First encourages everyone to contribute to this new movement towards a Shared Democracy in an open and free debate on all available communication channels!
Privacy First Foundation chairman