This week the Dutch House of Representatives will vote on a legislative proposal on the taking of 10 fingerprints of all foreigners (immigrants) for criminal investigation and prosecution purposes. This legislative proposal originally dates back to March 2009, the period in which all the Dutch government could come up with was privacy-intrusive legislation. The Privacy First Foundation deems this legislative proposal to be in breach of the right to privacy and the prohibition of self-incrimination. Below is the email that Privacy First sent to relevant Members of Parliament this afternoon:
Dear Members of Parliament,
Next Tuesday you will cast your vote on a legislative proposal aimed at extending the use of biometric features (fingerprints, facial scans) of immigrants. Hereby the Privacy First Foundation advises you to vote against this legislative proposal, especially in light of its disproportionate character. This disproportionality is demonstrated by the lack of relevant statistics and the relatively low fraud figures mentioned in the annotation to the legislative proposal dated 13 July 2012 by former Minister for Immigration, Integration and Asylum Gerd Leers (Christian-democratic party CDA). As with all human rights, any infringement of the right to privacy (Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR) requires a concrete statistical necessity instead of vague suspicions and wishful thinking. Therefore, it is all the more worrying that under this legislative proposal the prints of as many as 10 fingers will be taken of every immigrant to ‘compensate’ for the fact that the biometric technology is inadequate to suffice with just one or two fingerprints. However, are these 10 fingerprints not actually meant to serve the interests of criminal investigation behind this legislative proposal...? In this respect, a comparison could be made with the following consideration by the Minister of Justice Benk Korthals (Dutch political party VVD), dated 10 December 2001:
‘‘In response to the question by the CDA, I am not prepared to proceed to the taking of fingerprints of all Dutch citizens in the interests of criminal investigation. This would be disproportionate, considering for example the number of print cases offered on an annual basis, in the whole of the Netherlands around 10,000. Furthermore, it is basically impracticable because prints have to be made of all ten fingers and possibly the hand palms for them to be of any use for criminal investigation. Apart from the administrative processing and control, this would require too big a drain on police resources. In the context of the new ID card, a new biometric feature such as a fingerprint will possibly be adopted. This will be about determining whether the holder of the ID card is in actual fact the very person that is mentioned on it. Perhaps just one fingerprint will be enough for that, but that is absolutely insufficient for criminal investigation.’’
In other words: under the guise of combating fraud, with this legislative proposal a centralised search register of immigrants is created, exactly in the same way that this was about to happen a few years ago with the fingerprints of all Dutch citizens. Privacy First assumes that the various reasons why this last project was reversed midway through 2011 at the insistence of your Parliament (!) are known to you and apply just as much for the current legislative proposal. In addition, this proposal has a stigmatizing effect since it causes a whole population group (immigrants) to be seen as potential suspects. This creates an inversion of the presumption of innocence and conflicts with the prohibition of self-incrimination. In that sense the legislative proposal constitutes a collective violation of both Article 6 (nemo tenetur) and Article 8 ECHR (privacy and physical integrity). With regard to the Passport Act, this has led to a Dutch and European snowball effect of lawsuits since 2009. Therefore, Privacy First hopes that the House of Representatives has the progressive insight to prevent a repetition of this history.
Update 29 January 2013: the legislative proposal (no. 33192) has unfortunately been accepted by the House of Representatives this afternoon (video; starting at 19m36s). Dutch political parties D66, SP, ChristenUnie and the Party for the Animals voted against. Read also the report by Privacy Barometer and today’s article in newspaper NRC Handelsblad. Next stop: the Senate...
Update 29 January 2013, 21:45: Left-wing party GroenLinks ('GreenLeft') has notified that it had intended to vote against and will have the voting record corrected.
Update 30 January 2013: today GroenLinks notified the House of Representatives of its vote against the legislative proposal.
Update 31 January 2013: the article in NRC Handelsblad was also published in the affiliated newspaper NRC Next. Read also today's article in newspaper Nederlands Dagblad.
Update 8 February 2013: for the current status of the legislative proposal in the Dutch Senate, click HERE.
Update 6 March 2013: today Privacy First has sent a similar version of the email above to the Commission for Immigration and Asylum of the Dutch Senate.
In the context of a public consultation, the Dutch Ministry of the Interior recently requested Privacy First to react to the current government proposal to revise Article 13 of the Dutch Constitution (right to confidentiality of postal mail, telephone and telegraph). Below are our comments on the current draft of the legislative proposal (click HERE for the original Dutch version in pdf):
Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations
Deputy Director for Constitutional Affairs and Legislation
Mr. W.J. Pedroli, LL.M.
PO Box 20011
2500 EA The Hague
Amsterdam, 29 December 2012
Re: Comments by Privacy First on the revision of Article 13 of the Constitution
Dear Mr. Pedroli,
On October 16th 2012 you requested the Privacy First Foundation to react to the draft legislative proposal to revise Article 13 of our Constitution. Privacy First is grateful for your request and is happy to hereby provide you with critical comments. In the first place, Privacy First fully endorses the desire of this government to modernise the current, archaic Article 13 of the Constitution. However, Privacy First regrets the fact that the government has not seized the opportunity to also renew and reinforce other ‘fundamental rights in the digital age’.
In the view of Privacy First, the first and third paragraphs of the current draft legislative proposal to revise Article 13 of the Constitution form powerful anchors for a future-proof right to confidential communication. The first paragraph rightly upgrades the old confidentiality of postal mail, telephone and telegraph to a technology-independent (or technology-neutral) confidentiality of mail and telecommunication. The third paragraph forms a correct guarantee for the horizontal effect thereof. Moreover, Privacy First endorses the broad interpretation that is being given by the draft Explanatory Memorandum (EM) to various relevant concepts. However, the second paragraph of the draft proposal contains a systematic imbalance which, in times less democratic, could endanger the rule of law in our society. It is precisely this paragraph which most of Privacy First’s criticism is focused upon. Other points of criticism concern compulsory notification towards citizens in the event that special powers have been used by the intelligence and security services, traffic data as well as the lack of a comparative legal section in the EM.
Judicial authorisation and national security
The EM rightly states that "in light of Article 13 (...) the protection of citizens against violations by the government is paramount, especially in light of the actions by the police and intelligence services. Demanding a judicial authorisation under the Constitution provides a strong and clear constitutional guarantee." It is therefore incomprehensible that in the second paragraph of the draft legislative proposal the domain of national security is being excluded from judicial supervision. After all, where the concentration of power is supreme, judicial checks and balances should be the most potent to prevent any (future) abuses of power. In light of European history, the exception in paragraph 2 is in fact entirely irresponsible: unfortunately, even in our part of the world a democratic constitutional State is not a static matter of fact. Apart from that, the current draft proposal sends out a dangerous signal to foreign governments. Furthermore, Privacy First deems the exception in paragraph 2 unwise in view of possible technological developments in the (far) future. The same holds true in relation to the (further) expansion of the notion of ‘national security’. Also in the future, the Dutch population needs to be protected against arbitrary violations of confidentiality of communication; in this regard the current wording of paragraph 2 offers no guarantee whatsoever.
Adding an extra ‘judicial layer’ would strengthen the current system of internal and external supervision on the intelligence and security services (and hence reinforce our democratic constitutional State). In this regard, the system of judicial supervision in a country like Canada could be a source of inspiration. Such judicial control would also be in line with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights:
“The Court has indicated, when reviewing legislation governing secret surveillance in the light of Article 8 [ECHR], that in a field where abuse is potentially so easy in individual cases and could have such harmful consequences for democratic society as a whole, it is in principle desirable to entrust supervisory control to a judge.”
In light hereof, the current wording of paragraph 2 is not expedient. Privacy First thus advises a revision of this paragraph as follows:
“This right can be restricted in cases defined by law with the authorisation of a judge or, in the interest of national security, with authorisation from one or more ministers appointed by law.’’ [lining through by Privacy First]
As a possible alternative to the introduction of judicial supervision in the security domain, Privacy First advises to upgrade the existing Dutch Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services (CTIVD) into a more powerful, independent supervisory body, similar to the Belgian or German model with overall compulsory inspections beforehand instead of random supervisory inspections afterwards.
A second point of criticism concerns the lack of an explicit constitutional notion of compulsory notification in the event of any infringement of the confidentiality of mail and telecommunication. Compulsory notification provides legal protection to citizens and contributes to the correct enforcement of law by the government, also in the security domain. Like judicial authorisation, this offers the best guarantuees against short-term as well as long-term violations.
From Privacy First's point of view, traffic data too need to fall within the scope of Article 13 of the Constitution. These data are often related to the content of communication; this even follows from the text of the EM itself, where text messages ('SMS') and the email subject line are rightly mentioned as examples. The same goes for instance for search terms in search engines. Apart from that, it is possible to deduce the content of communication between individuals and/or companies from traffic data in conjunction with other data (possibly collected in real-time). So here too, a vigorous regime of Article 13 of the Constitution in conjunction with judicial supervision is essential.
Finally, in the current EM Privacy First misses a comparative legal paragraph in which current Article 13 of the Constitution is compared with constitutional best practices from countries with either a civil law or a common law tradition. Additionally, with a new Article 13 of the Constitution that is state-of-the-art internationally, the Netherlands could positively distinguish itself and to some degree regain its former position as a leader in human rights.
Privacy First hopes that this advice will be of use to you. We are willing to give clarifications on the above points upon request.
Privacy First Foundation
Director of Operations
 EM, at 18, 20.
 Compare EM at 11, 1st paragraph.
 ECHR 22 November 2012, Telegraaf vs. Netherlands (Appl.no. 39315/06), para. 98. Compare also ibid., paras. 98-102.
 EM, at 18.
Update 8 February 2013: see also the critical comments by the Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights (NJCM), Bits of Freedom and the newly established Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (in Dutch).
The appeal by Privacy First and 19 citizens against the Dutch government
On February 2, 2011, the Privacy First Foundation and 21 co-plaintiffs (citizens) were declared inadmissible by the district court of The Hague in our civil case against the Netherlands regarding the 2009 Dutch Passport Act. A proposal by the Dutch Minister of the Interior, Ms. Liesbeth Spies, to revise the Passport Act has been presented to the House of Representatives on 17 October this year. However, in this legislative proposal the original provision (Article 4b) concerning a centralised database remains intact for the greater part. Under this provision, biometric data of every Dutch citizen will be used for criminal investigation and prosecution purposes as well as intelligence work, disaster control and counter-terrorism. This constitutes a flagrant violation of, among other things, European privacy law. Efforts by individual citizens to challenge this through individual administrative court cases have thus far not yielded any results, since the administrative courts proved unwilling to evaluate the provision in question. Nevertheless, the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State) has recently made a preliminary reference to the European Court of Justice in
To that end we have today presented our Statement of Appeal to the Court of Appeal in The Hague. In this Statement Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm and Vita Zwaan (SOLV Attorneys) outline why Privacy First and co-plaintiffs have to be declared admissible. Subsequently, it will be possible for the Passport Act to be legally scrutinized in its entirety by the court and be measured up against higher law, including European privacy legislation. Our entire Statement of Appeal can be downloaded HERE (in Dutch). The Appeals Court of The Hague is expected to deliver its judgment before the summer.
Privacy First makes an urgent appeal to all Dutch citizens to contribute to the financing of this lawsuit. This can be done by donating on account number 18.104.22.1681 attn. Stichting Privacy First in
This afternoon the Privacy First Foundation sent the following email to the Dutch Senate:
Dear Members of the Senate,
Recently the international Amsterdam Privacy Conference 2012 took place. In his opening speech at this conference, Dutch politician Lodewijk Asscher principally addressed the current legislative proposal of regulating prostitution. Asscher voiced the expectation that the envisaged registration of prostitutes will lead to lawsuits that will end up before the European Court of Human Rights in
1. Compulsory registration of prostitutes will lead to a shift of prostitution to the illegal circuit. Thereby this legislative proposal will prove to be counterproductive, with all the risks this entails. The social (legal) status of prostitutes will become further weakened instead of strengthened.
2. Compulsory registration of prostitutes violates the right to privacy because it concerns the registration of sensitive personal information. This is prohibited under Article 16 of the Dutch Data Protection Act and is in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
3. Registration of prostitutes has a stigmatizing effect. Moreover, the security of this registration cannot possibly be guaranteed and there is also the danger of function creep. Therefore, the supposed advantages of registering do not outweigh the risks of data breaches, hacking, unauthorised and unforeseen use - now and in the future. This, in turn, also implies new risks of abuse and blackmailing.
4. Combating criminality and human trafficking ought not to happen through the risky registration of prostitutes, but rather through more effective criminal investigation, prosecution and adjudication of the culprits without putting the victims in danger. For that purpose it is up to the Minister to develop alternative, privacy-friendly instruments in consultation with relevant NGOs.
We are willing to supply further information on the above points upon request.
Privacy First Foundation
Update 30 October 2012: this afternoon the Senate heavily criticised (especially) the privacy aspects of compulsory registration of prostitutes. As a result, Minister Ivo Opstelten has decided to reconsider his approach to the issue. It now seems that compulsory registration is shelved. The discussion on other parts of the legislative proposal is postponed until further notice. Click HERE for an audio recording of the parliamentary debate (in Dutch) until its suspension (mp3, 2u53m, 119 MB).
The Privacy First Foundation has, with pleasure, just taken cognisance of 1) the announcement earlier today of a Dutch legislative proposal to abrogate fingerprints in ID cards and 2) the decision by the Dutch Council of State (Raad van State) to make a request for a preliminary ruling to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on the legality and interpretation of the European Passport Regulation in four administrative cases of individual Dutch citizens. The Privacy First Foundation hereby makes an appeal to Dutch Parliament to adopt the legislative proposal to abrogate fingerprints in ID cards as soon as possible. In anticipation of the expected adoption of this legislative proposal, taking people's fingerprints for ID cards must be halted immediately or at least become voluntary as a temporary solution. Privacy First also hopes that the European Court of Justice will swiftly deal with the preliminary reference and conclude that taking fingerprints for passports and ID cards is unlawful because it violates the right to privacy. Further comments by Privacy First will follow.
Update 18.00h: listen to the interview (in Dutch) with Privacy First on Radio 1.
Update 29 September 2012: see also our reaction in the Dutch regional press.
On Thursday morning 23 August 2012, the Dutch Royal Military and Border Police (Koninklijke Nederlandse Marechaussee, KMAR) presented to the international press the by now notorious Dutch camera system called @migo-Boras. That same afternoon the Privacy First Foundation was visited in Amsterdam by a camera crew of international news agency Associated Press (AP). For copyright reasons unfortunately we cannot publish the video material from AP. Among other things, Vincent Böhre (Privacy First) declared the following to AP:
‘‘Our main concerns are about privacy, because this system is based on profiling and total surveillance of everybody driving on the highway. Our second objection is of course the Schengen Agreement: this system really comes down to border control, even though they don’t want to call it that way. But if you look at the capabilities of the system and the intentions behind it, it’s pretty clear that it comes down to border control, and that's also what most lawyers say.’’
The news report that was then distributed across the world by AP is set out below:
‘‘Amid privacy concerns, Dutch immigration minister shows off new border cameras targeting crime’
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch immigration minister has shown off the government’s new system of cameras posted at border crossings with Germany and Belgium that he says will help clamp down on crimes like drug and people smuggling and illegal immigration.
However the new surveillance system has raised concerns among privacy activists.
The European Commission says that, based on information provided by Dutch authorities, the surveillance does not appear to breach the Schengen agreement governing freedom of movement within the 27-nation bloc and does not amount to a reintroduction of border controls.
However, the Commission says it will monitor the use of the cameras, which are posted at 15 highway border crossings. Immigration Minister Gerd Leers said Thursday the cameras are intended to help police target suspicious vehicles.’’
(Example: Montreal Gazette, via AP Worldstream)
Meanwhile, the Privacy First Foundation still considers taking legal action against @migo-Boras. It does so because 1) the system still has no specific legal basis, 2) the system is not necessary because it is solely 'supportive' to the task of the KMAR called Mobiel Toezicht Veiligheid (Mobile Security Monitoring) which is to check up on people from other Schengen countries travelling into the Netherlands, 3) the system is disproportionate because it is meant to track down a few individuals at the cost of the privacy and freedom to travel of everyone, 4) people are stopped and searched by the KMAR on the basis of the unlawful criterion of 'being interesting' instead of the lawful criterion of being under the 'reasonable suspicion of a criminal act', 5) the effectiveness of the system has thus far not been proved, 6) the system considers everyone at border crossings a potential suspect, 7) in practice, some elements of the system have a discriminatory effect, 8) the system seems increasingly set to be extended with four weeks of storage of everyone's travel movements through Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), 9) within the system design there is 'function creep (derogation from the original purpose) by design' instead of 'privacy by design' and 10) despite the judgement of the European Commission things basically come down to mass electronic border controls which are prohibited under the Schengen Agreement.
See also the following items (in Dutch, on privacyfirst.nl):
Big Brother-systeem zet privacy automobilist aan kant (Telegraaf.nl, 10 September 2012)
Interview met Privacy First over camerasysteem @migo-Boras (BNR Nieuwsradio, 1 August 2012)
Met @migo-Boras maak je geen vrienden (Privacy First, 5 January 2012)
Interview met Privacy First over nieuw grenscontrolesysteem @migo-boras (NOS Radio 1, 30 November 2011)
Interview met Privacy First over nieuw grenscontrolesysteem @migo-Boras (ZDF Journaal, 25 November 2011)
Click HERE for more items about @migo-Boras.
The Amsterdam police are considering the introduction of mobile X-ray body scanners on the streets, local television station AT5 reported today. If the police will indeed introduce such "nude scanners", Privacy First will not hesitate to sue both the Amsterdam police and the responsible Amsterdam Mayor Van der Laan for breach of 1) human dignity, 2) the presumption of innocence, 3) privacy, 4) freedom of movement, 5) physical integrity and 6) the health of all Amsterdam residents. Any introduction of mobile X-ray scanners will actively jeopardize the privacy as well as the health of innocent citizens.
Privacy First hereby makes an urgent appeal for political measures: this Thursday the subject of preventive searches is on the agenda of the Amsterdam city council. It is primarily up to the council to blow the whistle and prohibit the introduction of nude scanners by the Amsterdam police. If the council fails in this, Privacy First reserves the right to take all necessary measures to prevent the introduction of nude scanners.
Update 7.00pm: reaction of Privacy First on FunX Radio (in Dutch).
Update June 29, 2012: the introduction of mobile body scanners is put on hold during further investigations by Amsterdam Mayor Van der Laan. The subject will not be on the agenda of the Amsterdam city council again until early 2013. The political debate on preventive searches (including the possible introduction of body scanners) which took place yesterday in the Amsterdam city council Committee for General Affairs can be viewed online HERE (starting at 233m40s).
This Tuesday afternoon it is expected that the Dutch House of Representatives will vote in favour of two important motions. The first motion urges the Dutch government to have the European Passport Regulation critically discussed in Brussels. The second motion appeals to the government to take a firm stand in Brussels for there to be a critical reaction to American extraterritorial legislation, such as the notorious US Patriot Act. Both motions have come into being partly as a result of earlier reports by Privacy First about 1) the futility of taking fingerprints for passports and ID-cards and 2) the risk of Dutch fingerprints secretly ending up in foreign hands.
The current taking of fingerprints is the result of the European Passport Regulation. This regulation dates back to the end of 2004 and primarily came into existence under pressure of the American Bush administration. Back then there was hardly any critical discussion about the benefits and necessity of taking people's fingerprints for travel documents. At the time the responsible rapporteur of the European Parliament wasn’t even able to bring out into the open statistics about this matter, as was recently revealed through a FOIA-request filed by Privacy First. Soon it will be up to the European Commission to still prove the effectiveness of the Passport Regulation. In case the Commission fails in doing so, the Regulation should be discarded immediately.
Apart from fingerprints, the long arm of the Bush administration has for years been reaching deep into the heart of
In recent years
Update: Both motions have been adopted by the House of Representatives with an overwhelming majority! You can find a video of it HERE (in Dutch, starting at 9m55s). Only the right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) rejected the motions.
This morning in Geneva the long-awaited Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Netherlands took place before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UN). In the run up to this four-year session, the Privacy First Foundation and various other organisations had emphatically voiced their privacy concerns about the Netherlands to both the UN and to almost all UN Member States; you can read more about this HERE. The Dutch delegation for the UPR session was led by Interior Minister Ms. Liesbeth Spies. The opening statement by Spies contained the following, remarkable passage about privacy:
"The need to strike a balance between different interests has sometimes been hotly debated in the Dutch political arena, for example in the context of privacy measures and draft legislation limiting privacy. The compatibility of this kind of legislation with human rights standards is of utmost importance. This requires a thorough scrutiny test, which is guaranteed by our professionals and institutions. Improvements in this regard have been made when necessary, especially in the starting phase of new draft legislation. This has been done in the field of privacy, where making Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs), describing the modalities for the planned processing of personal data, are compulsory now." (pp. 5-6, italics Privacy First)
A "thorough scrutiny test" and compulsory Privacy Impact Assessments are the terms that positively stand out for Privacy First.
Prior to the UPR session, the United Kingdom had already put the following questions to the Netherlands: "Given recent concerns about data collection and security, including the unintended consequences of cases of identity theft, does the Netherlands have plans for measures to ensure more comprehensive oversight of the collection, use and retention of personal data?" (Source) On behalf of the Netherlands, Minister Spies responded to this question in Geneva this morning saying: "On the review of our laws on data protection, The Netherlands are currently working on a legislative proposal on data breach notification, following announcements of this proposal in the present coalition agreement. The proposal, which would require those responsible for personal data to notify the data protection authorities in case of "leakage" of personal data with specific risks for privacy (including identity theft), is expected to be tabled in Parliament in the coming months." This answer is rather concise and unfortunately it doesn’t contain any new elements. However, a new Dutch law on compulsory notification for data leakages will hopefully become a best practice for other UN Member States. The credits for this go to our colleagues of the Dutch NGO Bits of Freedom who have worked on this for a long time.
During the UPR session Estonia called the protection of privacy and personal data a "human rights challenge of the 21st century". Morocco then asked a critical question about the privacy issue: "Quelles sont les mesures concrètes entreprises par les autorités néerlandaises pour sécuriser l'utilisation des donnés personnelles?" ("What are the concrete measures taken by the Dutch authorities to protect the use of personal data?") The Philippines also raised the issue of the right to privacy, but only in these words: "The Philippine delegation appreciates the frank assessment of the Netherlands of the obstacles and challenges it has to hurdle in the implementation of the right to privacy especially in the area of protection of personal information." The comments by Greece, India, Russia and Uzbekistan were more content-focused. Greece addressed the practice of preventive searches: "We take note of reports regarding the issue of preventive body searches. We recommend that the Netherlands ensure that in its application of preventive body searches, all relevant human rights are adequately protected, in particular the right to privacy and physical integrity and the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race and religion." India exhorted the Netherlands on ethnic profiling of citizens: "We encourage the Dutch Government to take concrete measures to combat discrimination including discrimination by the Government such as ethnic profiling." Russia too advised the Netherlands "to introduce measures to stamp out discrimination arising as a result of the practice of racist, ethnic or religious profiling." The Netherlands was addressed about this very issue by Uzbekistan as well: "We are concerned over the existence of information on the increasingly broad use by the police of racist profiling."
As a reaction to these points Minister Spies referred to recent research by the Dutch police, scientists and the National, the Amsterdam and the Rotterdam Ombudsman about preventive body searches, discrimination and ethnic profiling. With regard to digital profiling (in general), she moreover proclaimed the following: "In its recent proposal for a general Data Protection Regulation, the [European] Commission has included rules on profiling, which can address the problems associated with profiling and the protection of personal data. The Netherlands endorses the need for clear legislative rules with regard to this topic, given the specific challenges for privacy protection that this technique entails. This is also the background against which the Netherlands welcomed in 2010 the Council of Europe Resolution on this topic, which contained a useful definition of profiling that would also be beneficial for inclusion in the [European] Commission proposals. The Netherlands will draw attention to this ongoing discussion in Brussels. The Regulation, once in force, will be directly applicable in the Netherlands."
By and large this is a reasonable result, given that up until now the privacy issue had hardly played any role at all within the UN Human Rights Council. However, it’s a shame that most countries still hardly dare to confront this issue, let alone ask specific and critical questions about it. Many of the recommendations by Privacy First have not been touched upon during this UPR session, although diplomats in Geneva and The Hague had earlier shown great interest in them. Perhaps they were stopped by their Foreign Affairs departments in capital cities because many privacy issues are also sensitive in their own domestic politics? Who knows... However, the fact remains that the international community was informed by Privacy First well in advance, which was part of the reason that the Dutch UN delegation headed by Minister Spies was properly focussed on the job at hand. This can only be to the benefit of general awareness and the protection of privacy, both inside and outside the Netherlands. In the end, for us this is what it’s all about.
Update 4 June 2012: This afternoon, a working group of the Human Rights Council adopted a draft report on the Dutch UPR session. The final version of this report will be adopted by the Human Rights Council in September 2012, accompanied by a (motivated) acceptance or rejection by the Netherlands of each individual recommendation in the report. Furthermore, this will also be discussed by the Dutch House of Representatives.
A total of 49 countries have taken part in the Dutch UPR session. It is noteworthy that Belgium, Italy and Austria did not take part in the session (although Belgium and Italy had in fact enrolled beforehand). As far as Austria is concerned this is particularly regrettable, because of all the UN Member States it was actually Austria which had in advance expressed the most interest in the Privacy First UPR shadow report and had intimated to be able to make a powerful, overall recommendation to the Netherlands about the right to privacy.
Update 21 September 2012: This morning, the UN Human Rights Council discussed its recommendations to the Netherlands. The Dutch Permanent Representative in Geneva declared which recommendations have been accepted or rejected by the Netherlands; see this UN document and this video. The two recommendations by the Human Rights Council that related to ethnic profiling and preventive body searches have both been accepted by the Netherlands under the following clarification:
- ethnic profiling: "The Dutch government rejects the use of ethnic profiling for criminal investigation purposes as a matter of principle." About profiling in a more general sense: "In its recent proposal for a General Data Protection Regulation, the European Commission included rules on profiling that address problems that may arise due to the increasing technical possibilities for in-depth searches of databases containing personal data. The Netherlands endorses the need for clear legislative rules on this subject, given the specific challenges for privacy protection that this technology entails." (Source, 98.57 & n. 75).
- preventive body searches: "The power to stop and search is strictly regulated in the Netherlands. The mayor of a municipality may designate an area where, for a limited period of time, preventive searches may be carried out in response to a disturbance of or grave threats to public order due to the presence of weapons. The public prosecutor then has discretion to order actual body searches and searches of vehicles and luggage for weapons." (Source, 98.74 & n. 95).
See also this statement by the Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights (Dutch abbreviation: NJCM) from this morning (video). Just like the NJCM, Privacy First regrets the lack of government consultation in the run up to today’s UPR session.
Below you can watch the 31 May 2012 UPR session in its entirety (click HERE for video segments of individual countries).
The following article by Privacy First employee Vincent Böhre was published this month in the periodical De Filosoof (‘The Philosopher’, University of Utrecht). Tomorrow the Dutch Passport Act will be high on the Dutch political agenda: in a debate with the Minister of the Interior Liesbeth Spies the compulsory taking of fingerprints for Dutch passports and ID cards will be discussed. Privacy First has recently (again) emphasized to all political parties in the Dutch House of Representatives to have passports without fingerprints introduced as soon as possible and to make a request to the government to have the Passport Regulation revised at the European level. This in order for the compulsory taking of fingerprints to be done away with also for passports, or at least to become of a voluntarily nature. The text below offers a quick recap with a positive twist. A pdf version of the original article in Dutch can be found HERE (pp. 6-7).
The biometric passport as an unintended privacy gift
‘‘Late 2001, the Christian-democratic political party CDA proposed storing the fingerprints of every Dutch citizen through passports for criminal investigation purposes. However, this proposal was immediately scrapped by other political parties because it would lead to a Big Brother society. Nonetheless, an even more far-reaching proposal became law seven years later almost inconspicuously. Under the new Dutch Passport Act, apart from criminal investigation and prosecution, everyone’s fingerprints and facial scan (biometric data) could also be used for counter-terrorism, domestic and foreign State security, disaster control and personal identification. However, none of these legal purposes had been discussed in Parliament. In fact, the new Passport Act was accepted by the Senate even without a vote. The media merely stood by and watched how it happened. How could things have gotten this far?
In a certain way the Passport Act was (and is) emblematic for the Dutch era after '9/11'. An era in which (presupposed) anti-terrorism measures could be steered through Parliament with the greatest of ease. After all, such measures would enhance our security, we were continuously told. By nature people are inclined to believe the authorities and to accept the status quo. From a human rights point of view, one could consider the post-9/11 era as a huge Milgram experiment: without too much resistance many human rights have for years been put to the rack of society. The realization of the new Passport Act is no exception. Every Member of the Senate could at least have made a request for a parliamentary vote. Journalists and scientists could have blown the whistle on time. Instead, they all stood there and watched since, of course, the law would make the Netherlands a ‘more secure’ place. But what was this assumption based on? Wasn’t the Netherlands actually going to be less secure by the massive storage of fingerprints in travel documents and affiliated databases? This question has never been asked in public, let alone discussed and answered.
The prime argument by the Dutch government for the introduction of fingerprints in passports and ID cards has, since the late 90s, been the following: it would prevent look-alike fraud with travel documents. Look-alike fraud is a form of abuse whereby someone uses an authentic travel document of someone else to whom his or her appearance resembles. Questions about the scale of this type of fraud have hardly ever been asked in Parliament. From a recent FOIA-request filed by Privacy First, it appeared that we’re dealing with only a few dozen cases each year (with Dutch travel documents on Dutch territory). In light thereof the introduction of fingerprints in travel documents of 17 million Dutch citizens is completely disproportionate. Not to mention the dozens, if not hundreds of millions of Euros that the government has spent on this project.
With the introduction of a ‘biometric identity infrastructure’ a new form of fraud comes to life that is extremely difficult to trace and combat: biometric identity fraud, for instance through hacking. Not just with guileless citizens and companies, but also in the public sphere (espionage). Moreover, it has been pointed out that in 21-25% of cases the biometric data in the chip of Dutch travel documents cannot be read (verified). So in the event of passport control, there is a high risk that citizens become unjustly suspected of fraud. The biometric passport is no good for combating terrorism either: terrorists generally use their own, authentic travel documents. Unfortunately, little is publicly known about the way security and intelligence agencies use biometrics, even though some purposes are easy to predict: identification of suspects unwilling to speak and ‘interesting’ persons in public space, the recognition of emotions, lie detection and the recognition or use of doubles. The same applies to the domain of criminal investigation and prosecution, also in conjunction with camera surveillance and automatic facial recognition. In addition, the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)-aspect of the chip in the document enables it to be read from a distance: citizens can be identified and tracked without it being noticed. With regard to personal identification, one could think of the possible introduction of fingerprints at banks, social services, the internet, etc. (Since the end of last year, a Dutch pilot project with mobile finger scanners for the police is ongoing.) Finally, there’s the domain of fighting disasters: biometrics used for the identification of casualties in the event of large-scale disasters or as a logistic means. All in all these possibilities for the use of biometrics go dozens, if not a hundred steps beyond the mere combating of look-alike fraud with travel documents. One ought to realize that all of these possibilities will sooner or later be put into practice. In jargon this is called ‘function creep’; historically seen it’s inevitable. Scientific research into future applications of biometrics continuously takes place. What’s more, even in our part of the world a democratic constitutional State is no invariable matter of fact. It is therefore very dubious whether our world will become ‘more secure’ by the large-scale use of biometrics.
It is exactly this concern which brought about a small Dutch revolution in the summer of 2009: at the time, the enactment of the new Passport Act led to a torrent of criticism and to the coming into being of the current Dutch privacy movement. New privacy organizations such as Privacy First proliferated, social coalitions were forged and lawsuits against the new Passport Act were filed. This boomerang effect within society continues to this day. Since that time the right to privacy is ever higher on the societal and political agenda. In that sense the biometric passport has so far proved to be an unintended gift from heaven.''
 See Vincent Böhre, Happy Landings? Het biometrische paspoort als zwarte doos (Happy landings? The biometric passport as a black box), Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid, WRR (Scientific Council for Government Policy) October 2010, http://www.wrr.nl/publicaties/publicatie/article/happy-landings-het-biometrische-paspoort-als-zwarte-doos-46/.
 See Privacy First, Revealing figures about look-alike fraud with Dutch travel documents (20 March 2012).
 See Böhre supra footnote 1, p. 111 ff.