Head of Dutch Intelligence: "I'm not in favour of Big Brother"

Thursday, 20 September 2012
Rob Bertholee Rob Bertholee

The Privacy First Foundation regularly organises networking drinks combined with informational sessions for our volunteers, donors and experts from our network of journalists, scientists, jurists and people working in ICT. Since July 2011, these events are organised about every three months and take place at the Privacy First office in the former building of de Volkskrant newspaper in Amsterdam. Themes discussed so far have been privacy in the Netherlands (speaker: Bart de Koning), biometrics (Max Snijder) and profiling by the government (Quirine Eijkman and André Hoogstrate). There were also book presentations by Dimitri Tokmetzis (De digitale schaduw – The digital shadow) and Adriaan Bos (Advocaat van de waarheid – Advocate of the truth). On Thursday night 13 September this year, we had a real scoop: a lecture about the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst, AIVD) and the right to privacy by no one other than the Head of the AIVD himself, Mr. Rob Bertholee. (Click HEREpdf for the invitations to our network (in Dutch). Would you also like to receive our invitations from now on? Email us!) The following morning, the essence of Bertholee’s lecture appeared on the AIVD website: click HERE (in Dutch). An article in Dutch newspaper Telegraaf about the event was published today. Below is a translated summary of Bertholee's speech and the discussion with the audience that followed (taking over two hours in total).

A common goal: freedom in an open democratic society

The night starts with a short introduction by Privacy First chairman Bas Filippini. In Filippini’s view, Privacy First and the AIVD actually pursue the same objective, namely freedom in an open democratic society, albeit from different perspectives. Rob Bertholee affirms this and says that tonight, contrary to what some may think, he doesn't really consider himself to be in the lion’s den. After a long career in the army, Bertholee has been the Head of the AIVD for nine months now. One of his first impressions of the AIVD was one of a professional organisation with people who are driven by their ideals, he says. Both the AIVD and the MIVD (military intelligence) have to deal with risks and threats to national security and the democratic legal order, in other words, with threats to our way of life and the guarantees for our freedoms thereof. As a result of internationalisation and new technologies, threats and risks increase in number and have a greater impact and reach. An example is the internet that, apart from its positive aspects, has a downside to it as well. 
Rob Bertholee


Security is not a fundamental right

The AIVD has two main tasks: intelligence and security. Formally however, security is not a fundamental right, Bertholee rightly remarks. In its case-law, the European Court of Human Rights has indicated that States are obliged to take all reasonable measures against life-threatening situations, he says. Subsequently, the Council of Europe has endorsed this in its Guidelines on human rights and the fight against terrorism. Whereas Privacy First focuses on the protection of the individual, the AIVD concentrates on the protection of the community of individuals. In between there’s a trade-off: in order to protect the community, sometimes it is necessary to infringe the rights of the individual. Bertholee then mentions a couple of tasks of the AIVD which do not infringe the right to privacy. This is the case for 1) personal security assessment and 2) protective measures for individuals, organisations and companies, for example in relation to espionage. In these two cases the law dictates that the AIVD is, by law, not allowed to deploy special intelligence powers. It is exactly the deployment of such powers that infringes people's privacy.

An important part of the AIVD is the National Communications Security Agency (Nationaal Bureau voor Verbindingsbeveiliging, NBV) which supports the Dutch central government in securing special information. The NBV evaluates security products and plays a role in their development. It is this agency where, for example, USB flash drives for the government are tested on data leakages. Then there’s the political intelligence task of the AIVD abroad, "which, admittedly, intrudes upon people's privacy, but not here in this country". Finally, there’s the task of making threat analyses for certain individuals (for example politicians), organisations or events. One task of the AIVD through which privacy in the Netherlands is put at stake concerns the assessment of ‘threats to our national security, the continuation of democratic rule of law and other, important State interests". This assessment is carried out, first of all, through open sources (media, internet, etc.), but can (subsequently) proceed by shadowing, monitoring or eavesdropping of persons or by penetrating virtual or physical spaces. In this respect Bertholee emphasizes the high degree to which employees of the AIVD are aware of 'the spirit' of the Dutch Intelligence and Security Services Act 2002 (Wet op de inlichtingen- en veiligheidsdiensten, Wiv2002). "As a citizen I felt reasonably reassured from the moment I had an understanding of what the AIVD was actually doing and what it could and was allowed to do, and also by the way the government can continue to exercise control over a service like the AIVD," says Bertholee. "You don't have to believe me, but I just wanted to share this with you," he jokes. Then he’s resolute again in saying "our tasks and powers are all clearly defined by law."

Rob Bertholee

Legal framework

In the field of counter-terrorism, at the moment most of the AIVD’s attention goes out to (potential) Jihadists and radical 'lone wolves' like Anders Breivik. Bertholee finds it worrisome that such lone wolves are hard to track down, even though relevant information is sometimes available, for example at healthcare institutions or the police. A difficult dilemma is, on the one hand, the question whether or not certain events could have been prevented by correlating information on national and international levels and, on the other, which risks society is willing to take in order to preserve people's privacy, Bertholee explains. However, he can well imagine that citizens worry about the correlation and international exchange of data and that this is bringing about a 'Big Brother' experience. As a citizen, Bertholee himself is worried about this too. Where is the right balance between protecting the individual and protecting the community? Every special power of the AIVD is anchored in the Wiv2002. The most simple special power is talking to people (Article 17 Wiv2002). For every single special power in the Wiv2002 the following requirements apply: 1) necessity, 2), proportionality and 3) subsidiarity. Therefore, special powers may only be deployed in case open sources (internet etc.) prove to be insufficient. The AIVD is to continually ask itself: is it strictly necessary? And are we very certain that there are no lighter measures at our disposal? The enforcement of those very powers is verifiable afterwards. Apart from opening letters (this falls under the Dutch Postal Act) there is no investigative magistrate involved. However, for the use of every special intelligence power the approval by the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations or by the Head of the AIVD on behalf of the Minister is required. Moreover, every new employee of the AIVD gets a basic education through which he or she is being taught, among other things, about the Wiv2002. In this context, Bertholee relates an interesting anecdote: once in a while the AIVD invites a number of journalists, members of Parliament or jurists to discuss a case. It turns out that those not working for the AIVD are more inclined to allow the use of special powers than the AIVD employees themselves. As an answer to a question from the audience, Bertholee says that he himself gave an explanation about the Wiv2002 to Interior Minister Liesbeth Spies, just one and a half hours after she was sworn in by Queen Beatrix. "We have no rules of our own, we abide to what is written in the law," Bertholee says. He goes on telling about the process that sees the deployment of a special power: it starts with an employee who wants to use a special power for an AIVD investigation. The employee is to account for his request in writing and an AIVD operational lawyer looks into it. The request is then sent to a supervisor, after which it is forwarded to Bertholee. Finally, the request ends up at the desk of the Interior Minister. This happens case by case, always taking the prerequisites of the Wiv2002 into consideration. No form of pressure is allowed in the event the AIVD makes a request for information to citizens. The same goes for requesting information to journalists: it is entirely up to them to cooperate or not. "If a journalist is not willing to cooperate, then that’s a pity for the AIVD and that’s where things end", Bertholee explains. However, some (parts of) conversations are being registered in a memo since everything needs to be verifiable for the AIVD.

Supervisory mechanisms

Bertholee tells about the way the AIVD is monitored by various bodies that each play their own role. First of all there’s the Dutch Parliamentary Commission for Intelligence and Security Services ('Commissie Stiekem') which consists of all the leaders of Parliamentary parties. Then there’s the (public) Parliamentary Commission for the Interior. The legality of the execution of tasks by the AIVD is scrutinised by the Dutch Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services (Commissie van Toezicht betreffende de Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdiensten, CTIVD); this is an independent supervisory body which consists mainly of legal experts. According to Bertholee, in recent years the CTIVD assessments on the AIVD have largely been positive. Furthermore, the Netherlands Court of Audit (Algemene Rekenkamer) examines the (secret) budget of the AIVD. Both the CTIVD as well as the Court of Audit have access to everything within the AIVD.

Revision of the Wiv2002

With regard to a possible revision of the Wiv2002, Bertholee remarks that the legal space currently offered is sufficient for the AIVD and that he doesn’t need more powers. However, he does think it is "particular" that the Wiv2002 is in some aspects related to the Dutch Postal Act and to the Telecom Act, which makes it necessary for the AIVD to get the permission of an investigative judge to open a letter, while that same permission is not required for intercepting or opening an email. Hence the legislation is technology-dependent and "something needs to be done about that", Bertholee states. Besides, the CTIVD has proposed to change the legislation with regard to SIGINT (Signals Intelligence). Furthermore, Parliament may evaluate the Wiv2002 in the near future. It seems there are two thorny issues at the moment: a possible ban on using journalists as informants and more control over the effectiveness of the AIVD. The difficult thing is that the effectiveness of an organisation like the AIVD is hard to measure; this is related to the nature of the work and the type of threats that are being averted. Bertholee: "I accept that life has certain risks. The question, however, is what society wants. How many casualties per year do you find acceptable?"

No Big Brother

Confronted with a question from the audience about new, predictive technologies and the effect that these can have on social behaviour, Bertholee makes clear "not to be in favour of Big Brother. There are limits to what you can and what you cannot do. This is also related to the risks that you are willing to take as a society." Bertholee responds to another question from the audience saying that a special power may only be used as long as it's necessary. When the necessity (i.e. the reason or threat) ceases to exist, the authority to use a special power ceases to exist as well. The CTIVD keeps an eye on that. Five years after a special power has been used, a duty of notification towards the citizen involved applies, unless this could reveal relevant sources or a current operational method. However, this duty to notify has so far never been used. In fact, Bertholee wonders whether such a notification could actually be experienced as an assault on one’s private life in case there was nothing going on with the person concerned.

Rob Bertholee

International exchange

The Wiv2002 remains applicable to the international exchange of intelligence between the AIVD and foreign secret services, Bertholee explains. Furthermore, an international code of conduct applies. The exchange of intelligence is examined from case to case and from country to country. In the event of exchange, what is allowed to happen with the intelligence in question is being indicated. Internationally this is being adhered to pretty well, according to Bertholee. However, in some cases, or rather, with some countries the exchange of intelligence could become a dilemma...

Drawing the line where violence starts

One question relates to the degree to which activists figure in AIVD files. Bertholee explains that, in principle, the AIVD conducts no investigations into activists. "We don’t care what someone thinks. We do not represent the moral high ground of the Netherlands. It is only when violence comes into play - or calls for violence, clear intentions towards violence, radicalisation - that we feel involved."

Current risks

During the discussion with the audience Bertholee emphasizes that it’s not the aim of the AIVD to collect as much data as possible. The aim is rather to collect the right information in order to be able to fend off threats. It is not the AIVD, but the industry that is the driving force behind the development of information technology that, unfortunately, is also used in less democratic countries. In response to a question Bertholee admits that there is a risk that a service like the AIVD could 'drown' in an abundance of data. Biometrics are one such development of new technology. This makes it more difficult to assume a new identity, both for people with bad intentions as well as for officers of the AIVD itself. Furthermore, the privatisation of intelligence is risky, especially due to the lack of legislative checks and balances.

Finally

Bertholee finishes his speech by emphasizing once more that the AIVD 1) doesn’t keep records of everyone, 2) doesn’t wiretap everyone, 3) shoots nobody, 4) doesn’t arrest anyone, 5) doesn’t force cars into the kerb, 6) doesn’t torture anyone, 7) doesn’t hack into every computer, 8) has no enforcement powers, 9) doesn’t put pressure on people and 10) doesn’t recruit journalists. Then Privacy First chairman Filippini rounds off the night and invites everyone present for drinks with music.

Handover of the book 'The digital shadow' and a bottle of wine by Bas Filippini to Rob Bertholee

 

Postscript Privacy First: as international peace and security often benefit from dialogue between 'opponents', the same goes in our country for a good relationship between the government and civil rights organisations like Privacy First. In that sense we consider this night to have been very valuable and we hope that the AIVD deems this event to be worth repeating in the future!

Screenshot AIVD website 14 September 2012

Update 27 September 2012: as a result of Bertholee's speech, a second article appeared in Dutch newspaper Telegraaf.

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