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Dutch interception secrecy

By EDRi · February 26, 2003

The quantity of police interceptions of telecommunication in the Netherlands is higher than anywhere else in the world, according to the few available official statistics. Government however, tries to maintain secrecy about the exact numbers and the technical specifications of the equipment.

Last week, a Freedom-of-Information request by EDRi-member Bits of Freedom for statistics covering the nineties was turned down by government because of ‘the lack of available statistics’. The ministry of Justice could not explain why there seem to be no statistics for most years.

The few official publications show an explosive increase of interception numbers in the nineties. According to a 1996 report by the Ministry of Justice’s research centre, in 1993 and 1994 respectively 3.619 and 3.284 telephone lines were wiretapped. The researchers concluded that those numbers already were considerably higher than the absolute quantity in the USA and the UK. According to Ministerial answers to Parliament, in 1999 the number of intercepts had increased to an astonishing 10.000 tapped phones by Dutch police (TK 27591, nr. 2). Official reporting by the US Courts and the UK Communications Commissioner show considerably lower numbers over 1999: 1.277 for the USA and 1.933 for the UK.

Police in the Netherlands have made themselves very dependent of wiretapping. Since 1998, the introduction of the Dutch Telecommunications Act, all telephone companies and internet service providers are obliged to install interception devices at their own expense. Wiretapping being such an elementary part of police investigation, government shies away from transparency and accountability. Even though telecom and internet operators regularly send bills for operational wiretapping costs, the ministry of Justice claims it doesn’t keep account of the numbers.

But secrecy is not limited to the numbers; there are no certifications for the wiretapping equipment. In recent criminal court cases lawyers have declared wiretap evidence unreliable and manipulated. Since most of the interception equipment in the Netherlands is closed-source (even for the police) and not certified, little assurance can be given that the produced evidence is indeed correct and reliable. In a high profile court case against the Kurd Baybasin, a former signals intelligence expert from the military intelligence service has come forward as an expert for the defence lawyers, stating that the intercepts were clearly manipulated.

Report of the UK Commissioner for 1999

US Courts Wiretap Reports

Making up the rules: Interception versus privacy (August 2000)