Dutch government cancels plans for national database on bank data

By EDRi · November 17, 2010

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Niederländische Regierung gibt Pläne für nationale Bankdatenbank auf | http://www.unwatched.org/node/2360]

After facing enormous pressure from the media, civil society and several
MPs, The Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice announced that it will
not develop a national database or search engine containing bank data of
all Dutch citizens. The Dutch digital rights organization Bits of
Freedom discovered plans to this end in one of 27 internal documents,
that were made public after a Freedom of Information Act requests by
independent researcher Rejo Zenger. As the response of the Government
followed only one day after these plans hit the news, the campaign
illustrates the crucial role civil society can and must play to protect
digital civil rights.

The ambitions are a part of the much larger ‘Project verkeerstoren’
(Traffic Tower), that seeks to centralize the retention of and access to
several categories of personal data, in order to ease the procedure for
data requests by law enforcement agencies (LAEs). As telecommunications
subscriber data are already stored in the national database CIOT
(Centraal Informatiepunt Onderzoek Telecommunicatie) – accessed approx.
3 million times a year by Dutch LAEs – the Government had been
investigating in ‘Project dataretentie’ the extension the CIOT-model to
historical telecommunications subscriber data, traffic- and location
data following the enactment of the Data retention directive. In one
document however, the Government discusses the Traffic Tower project and
writes that bank data could follow, after the successful implementation
of the Data retention project. After the confirmation of these ambitions
by the Ministry to several journalists, the plans received considerable
media attention and critique from MPs. Two days later, the Ministry
cancelled the national database on bank data.

The implications of the CIOT-database function creep were put in context
by a second finding: at least 78.000 requests of traffic- and location
data by Dutch LAEs in the last year. Until now, the Ministry had kept
secret this information for the general public. Consequently, the news
that Dutch LAEs are a European frontrunner when it comes to
telecommunications data – subscriber-, traffic and locations data –
requests was mentioned along the plans for the centralization of bank
data. These revelations follow up a Bits of Freedom analysis of last
summer, that concluded that the LAEs have been neglecting the data
protection rules surrounding the database for at least three years in a
row, even though internal audit reports had strongly called upon the
LAEs to respect the privacy and data protection rights since the errors
where ‘undermining the legitimacy of the Law Enforcement effort’. Bits
of Freedoms disclosure that authorized police officers had been giving
their PIN-codes away to their colleagues and that the entire request
procedure had not been subject to either independent oversight or prior
check of legitimate access, were two of the more striking examples that
reached the headlines in mainstream media back then. If that weren’t
enough, ISP and telecoms incumbent KPN stated in a letter – amongst the
27 released documents – that the operator rather keeps the data for
itself, than handing it over to the CIOT-database.

Hence, the cancellation of the database on bank data is of important
symbolic value. It casts light on the Traffic Tower project, the impact
of mandatory centralized personal data storage and shows that civil
society can stop such ambitions as it has the facts on its side. It also
shows that civil society is needed in the future: the Ministry is still
working out the centralization of telecommunications traffic- and
location data of all Dutch citizens, to the effect that every single
communication and movement of all Dutch citizens can be requested with
one mouse click. Bits of Freedom will continue to put any ambitions to
this end under close scrutiny.

Rejo Zenger website, 27 released documents on ‘Project dataretentie’ (only
in Dutch)

NOS Journaal, ‘Justitie wil bankgegevens sneller’ (only in Dutch, 9.11.2010)

Bits of Freedom, ‘Nederland Europees koploper opvragen telecomgegevens’
(only in Dutch, 10.11.2010)

Bits of Freedom, ‘Meteen succes: landelijke zoekmachine bankgegevens van
de baan (only in Dutch, 11.11.2010)

Bits of Freedom, ‘Opsporingsdiensten negeren privacyregels stelselmatig’
(only in Dutch, 26.07.2010)

(Contribution by Axel Arnbak – EDRi-member Bits of Freedom)