Bits of Freedom files a complaint against intelligence services on behalf of millions of citizens
The Dutch secret services are illegally storing the data of millions of citizens. The supervisor does not have the means to do anything about this violation of the law, so EDRi member Bits of Freedom filed a formal complaint. It is high time that the secret services started to abide by the law. Our data should be removed from their servers.
A class action complaint to free your data from the servers of the Dutch secret services
Normally, individual citizens can file a complaint if they feel they have been treated unfairly by the secret services. However, when we speak of the illegal mass retention and use of data, there is a need for a larger-scale action. That’s why Bits of Freedom has filed a complaint on behalf of all citizens whose data has been affected. This is the personal data of millions of people. This makes Bits of Freedom the first organisation ever to file such a ‘class action’ complaint with the Complaints Department of the Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services (CTIVD). In this way, they want to put a stop to this illegal and highly intrusive practice and liberate the data of all these people from the clutches of secret services.
The problem: The secret services steal the data of millions of citizens
The secret services use bulk powers to collect a huge amount of data on millions of citizens. People who the secret services do not (and will not) investigate. Legally, this is allowed, but only if the services delete all data that is not relevant to them as quickly as possible. And that last step is where it goes wrong. They do not do that. The amount of data that the secret services collect about us has increased so much that the secret services can no longer cope. So, they process any type of data regardless of its relevance to the investigation, which results in the mass retention of data. Earlier, the Oversight Department of the CTIVD called this a trick and assessed the illegality of it.
A need for better checks and balances of the secret services
Unfortunately, this is not the case. The CTIVD consists of two departments, neither of which can detect and address abuses. The Supervisory Department decides on its focus and has the power to initiate investigations, but it lacks the binding powers to intervene when things go wrong. The Supervisory Department reports to the Minister who makes the decision whether to react or not. On the other hand, the Complaints Department does have binding powers. This department can, for example, demand that the secret services delete data or stop using a given power. However, it cannot decide for itself what it will investigate in order to subsequently deploy that power. In other words, it can only act if someone files a complaint.
Our complaint as a connecting link
In itself, this system does not work. Despite the fact that the Supervisory Department has declared this practice to be unlawful, it cannot delete the data nor stop this from happening again. The Complaints Department could intervene only if someone files a complaint. And that is exactly what Bits of Freedom has done.
Further updates on the case will follow. Stay tuned.
The article was first published in Dutch by Bits of Freedom here.
Image credit: uve sanchez / Unsplash
(Contribution by: Lotte Houwing, Policy Advisor, EDRi member Bits of Freedom)