Today the district court of The Hague has rendered the Dutch Data Retention Act inoperative in a break-through verdict. The judge did so at the request of the Privacy First Foundation and six other organizations. This puts an end to a massive privacy violation that lasted for years: retaining the telecommunications data of everyone in the Netherlands for criminal investigation purposes, which made every Dutch citizen a potential suspect.
Broad coalition of civil society organizations
Under the 2009 Dutch Data Retention Act, the telecommunications data (telephony and internet traffic) of everyone in the Netherlands had to be retained, for 12 months and 6 months respectively, for criminal investigation purposes. In interim injunction proceedings against the Dutch government, a broad coalition of civil society organizations demanded the Act to be rendered inoperative as it violated the right to privacy. The claimant organizations were the Privacy First Foundation, the Dutch Association of Defence Counsel (NVSA), the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ), the Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights (NJCM), Internet provider BIT and telecommunications providers VOYS and SpeakUp. The case was conducted by Boekx Attorneys (Amsterdam).
According to the claimant parties, the Dutch Data Retention Act constituted a violation of fundamental rights that protect privacy, communications and personal data. This was also the view of the European Court of Justice in April last year, followed by the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State), the Dutch Data Protection Authority (College Bescherming Persoonsgegevens) and the Dutch Senate (Eerste Kamer). However, former Dutch minister of Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten, refused to withdraw the Act. Opstelten wanted to uphold the Act until a legislative change was implemented, which could have taken years. The district court in The Hague has now made short shrift of the Act by repealing it immediately.
Data retention is unlawful
On 8 April 2014, the European Court of Justice declared the EU Data Retention Directive entirely and retroactively unlawful. The Dutch Data Retention Act was almost identical to this invalid directive. According to the European Court, retaining the telecommunications data of everyone, without any well-founded suspicion, is in breach of the fundamental right to privacy. Randomly and unrestrictedly collecting 'metadata' in the context of mass surveillance is not permitted, according to the Court.
Privacy First is committed to maintaining and strengthening everyone's right to privacy, if necessary by filing lawsuits against the Dutch government. The Dutch Data Retention Act was an excellent cause for doing so, says Vincent Böhre of Privacy First: "This mass surveillance constituted a massive violation of the right to privacy of every Dutch citizen. It was unacceptable that minister Opstelten clinged to this practice after the highest European court had already clearly stated back in April that this privacy violation was not permitted. Privacy First works to promote a society in which innocent citizens are not burdened by the idea of constantly being watched. The judgment of the court in The Hague is an important step in that direction."
Privacy First expects Dutch telecommunications providers to comply with the judgment and stop retaining everyone's telecommunications data for criminal investigation purposes. In case the Dutch government decides to appeal the judgment, then Privacy First is confident about the outcome of proceedings before the Hague Court of Appeal.
"The first hearing of the appeal against the Dutch data retention legislation will be heard 18 February, announced ISP BIT, one of the organisations bringing the suit. BIT as well as a number of NGOs claim the legislation is in violation of personal privacy rights. The lawsuit was filed in December in cooperation with Privacy First, the Dutch association of defense lawyers, the Dutch journalists union, the Dutch committee of lawyers for human rights and the telecom operators BIT, Voys and SpeakUp. The Amsterdam law fim Boekx Advocaten is handling the case."
Source: http://www.telecompaper.com/news/dutch-data-retention-appeal-hearing-scheduled-for-18-feb--1059022, 12 January 2015.
"The Dutch data retention law will have its day in court on Feb. 18, when the District Court of the Hague hears a legal challenge to it filed by a broad coalition of organizations.
The law requires telecommunications and Internet companies to retain their customer's location and traffic metadata for six to 12 months, depending on the type of data, for investigatory purposes.
However, the complainants want the court to invalidate the law because it violates fundamental privacy rights, said their law firm Boekx Advocaten. The main reason the law should be scrapped, they say, is a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) last year, which invalidated the EU's Data Retention Directive on which the Dutch law is based because it violates fundamental privacy rights.
After evaluating that ruling, though, the Dutch government decided in November largely to maintain the national data retention law on the grounds that it "is indispensable for the investigation and prosecution of serious criminal offenses." Only a few adjustments to the law were deemed necessary, mainly tightening who has access to the data and under which circumstances.
By maintaining the law, the government also ignored the advice given by the Council of State, a constitutional advisory body that concluded that the Dutch data retention law should be withdrawn because it violates fundamental privacy laws.
The challenge, filed by civil rights organization Privacy First, the Dutch Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Dutch Association of Journalists, the Dutch Section of the International Commission of Jurists, ISP BIT and telecom companies VOYS and SpeakUp, aims to get the law invalidated as soon as possible.
Data retention laws in other EU countries have been ruled unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court of Austria for instance axed the local data retention law in the wake of the CJEU ruling, and in Germany the local data retention law was already ruled unconstitutional in 2010, long before the CJEU ruling.
In Sweden though things are much the same as in the Netherlands. There, the government maintains that the Swedish national legislation can still be applied, causing trouble for Swedish ISP Bahnhof, which had stopped retaining and deleted data after being given permission by the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) to do so in wake of the CJEU ruling.
However, Bahnhof was told to start retaining data again later last year. To protect its customers, the ISP has set up a free VPN (virtual private network) service to hide their communication metadata from the police. It also asked to the European Commission to intervene and vowed to fight the law in court.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament's Legal Service also reached a conclusion about the CJEU ruling. It means that EU countries no longer have any obligation but rather an option to keep retaining data, it said in its analysis of the implications of the judgement that was leaked by digital rights group Access Now last week.
As a result of the CJEU ruling, countries run an even higher risk than before of having their national legislation annulled by national courts in a similar way to what has happened in some EU countries, the Legal Service said. (...)"
Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2867792/dutch-government-sued-over-data-retention-law.html, 12 January 2015.
A broad coalition of organizations and companies is starting interim injunction proceedings against the Dutch government. The Privacy First Foundation, internet provider BIT, the Dutch Association of Journalists and the Dutch Association of Defence Counsel among others are demanding the abolition of the Dutch Telecommunications Data Retention Act. The Dutch Council of State and the European Court of Justice have already ruled that the Act is in violation of fundamental rights that protect private life, communications and personal data. However, the Dutch government refuses to render the Telecommunications Data Retention Act inoperative.
On 8 April 2014 the European Court of Justice declared the European Data Retention Directive (2006/24/EC) invalid with retroactive effect. According to the Court, retaining communications data of everyone without any concrete suspicion is in violation of the fundamental right to privacy. Objective criteria should be applied to determine the necessity of collection and retention of data and there should be prior control from an independent body or judge. Randomly and unrestrictedly collecting metadata (traffic data) in the context of 'mass surveillance' is not permitted, according to the Court.
In the Netherlands, regulations in this area are enshrined in the Dutch Telecommunications Data Retention Act, which largely mirrors the European Data Retention Directive. The Act provides that telecommunications companies and internet providers have to retain various data regarding internet and telephone usage for at least six and at most twelve months in order for judicial authorities to be able to use those data for criminal investigation purposes. Recently the Dutch Council of State ('Raad van State') judged that the Act does not comply with fundamental rights that protect private life, communications and personal data. However, the Dutch government does not heed the advice of the Council of State and refuses to repeal the Act. Compliance with the Act will be maintained by the government.
Vincent Böhre of Privacy First: "Mass surveillance constitutes a massive violation of citizens' privacy rights. It is unacceptable that the Dutch government clings to this practice after the highest European judge has already clearly stated back in April that this privacy violation is not permitted."
Thomas Bruning, Secretary of the Dutch Association of Journalists: "Telecommunications companies and internet providers are now obliged to retain a vast amount of communications data of all citizens. This includes journalists. Companies have to disclose these data at the request of the government. There is no guarantee whatsoever for the journalistic right of non-disclosure."
"The Dutch regulations are in breach of the applicable European fundamental rights", states Fulco Blokhuis, partner at Boekx Attorneys, who has meanwhile drafted a subpoena. "This situation is as disconcerting as it is undesirable. Maintaining this Act is unlawful, both towards citizens as well as companies who are forced to stay in possession of traffic data."
Alex Bik of internet provider BIT: "When the Dutch government introduced the Act, it hid behind the argument that the introduction was simply imposed upon by Europe, but since the European Data Retention Directive has been repealed with retroactive effect, this argument all of a sudden is no longer deemed valid by the government. That is not right."
Otto Volgenant of Boekx Attorneys: "As the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten, is unwilling to abolish the Telecommunications Data Retention Act, we will request the court to either render the Act inoperative or to prohibit its application any longer. We will shortly be issuing interim injunction proceedings."
Update 12 January 2015: the interim injunction proceedings against the Dutch government pertaining to the retention of telecommunications data will take place before the district court of The Hague in a public hearing on Wednesday 18 February 2015 at 11:00 hours. Meanwhile, the renowned Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights (NJCM) has joined the coalition of claimant organizations. Click HERE (pdf, in Dutch) for the subpoena, click HERE for a press release from Boekx Attorneys (in Dutch) and HERE for an article (in Dutch) which appeared on the website of Dutch newspaper Telegraaf this morning.
Update 30 January 2015: yesterday a hearing (roundtable) about the Dutch Data Retention Act took place in the Dutch House of Representatives. Click HERE for a schedule of the hearing (pdf) and HERE (pdf, in Dutch) for the talking points that Privacy First sent to the House of Representatives prior to the hearing (pdf). The lack of necessity and proportionality of the current Data Retention Act were the main topics that were discussed by Privacy First during the roundtable. Other aspects that were raised by Privacy First related to the chilling effect in society as well as the potential for function creep that the Act brings about.
Update 13 February 2015: today, on behalf of the State, the Dutch State Attorney submitted a Statement of Defence; click HERE (pdf in Dutch, 9 MB). The admissibility of the claimant organizations will not be challenged by the Dutch government, the State Attorney told our own attorneys by telephone. Therefore the proceedings will immediately focus on the merits of the case, rather than on procedural requirements. This is a breakthrough development: in similar cases the admissibility of the claimant parties was almost always contested by the State. A crucial lawsuit concerning such admissibility (our Passport Trial against the storage of fingerprints) is currently being conducted by Privacy First against the Dutch government before the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. Privacy First is of the opinion that the recognition of admissibility by the State Attorney in the interim injunction proceedings against the Telecommunications Data Retention Act puts Privacy First in a stronger position for this and future lawsuits that revolve around the right to privacy. Moreover, in times when access to justice of individual citizens in the Netherlands is increasingly under financial pressure, the admissibility of civil society organizations such as Privacy First forms an important safeguard for a well functioning Dutch democracy under the rule of law.
Update 18 February 2015: in front of a full courtroom (many civil servants, citizens, students and journalists were in attendance), today Privacy First et al. crossed swords with the State; click HERE for the plea of our attorneys (pdf in Dutch) and HERE for the pleadings of the State Attorney (pdf, in Dutch). The judge listened carefully but didn't ask any questions. As yet, Wednesday 11 March 2015 has been determined as the date of the judgment.
Update 11 March 2015: in a break-through verdict today, the district court of The Hague has rendered the Dutch Data Retention Act inoperative; click HERE.