Dutch government: Cryptophone protects privacy

By EDRi · February 27, 2004

The Dutch minister of Justice Donner has answered parliamentary questions about the introduction of a commercially available crypto-GSM.

The Cryptophone was developed in the Netherlands and is sold through a German company. The device is a combined GSM and organiser running Windows Pocket PC. The Cryptophone uses open-source software that encrypts the call when connecting to another device of its kind. The phone should make it impossible for any third-party, including the phone company and police, to listen in to the call.

The Dutch Christian-Democrat Member of Parliament Haersma-Buma asked government to forbid the phones, since they can make it impossible for police to use the information from a wiretapped mobile phone call. Dutch police relies heavily on phone interception with an estimated 12.000 phone taps per year. This number is higher then in any other European country or even the US (not counting the unknown number of taps by any intelligence service).

According to minister Donner it is legal to use the phone. The minister refuses a request to confront the makers of the phone with their responsibility not to harm police capabilities: “These products are being developed to facilitate secure communications and thereby to serve privacy interests and other justified legitimate interests, such as the protection of corporate secrets”. Donner acknowledges that law enforcement capabilities to obtain the original voice communication are limited. Pending legislation that gives police the powers to demand decryption will also have little effect for the Cryptophone. The device uses unique session-keys for each phone call. After the call no one can be ordered to decrypt, since the keys are destroyed.

Donner did announce higher investments in crypto-analysis capabilities.

Answer to parliamentary questions 2003-2004, nr. 2030403480, House of Representatives (23.02.2004, in Dutch)