Legal ruling

Dutch civil society groups sue government over NSA data sharing

A coalition of defense lawyers, privacy advocates, and journalists has sued the Dutch government over its collaboration and exchange of data with the U.S. National Security Agency and other foreign intelligence services.

The coalition is seeking a court order to stop Dutch intelligence services AIVD and MIVD from using data received from foreign agencies like the NSA that was not obtained in accordance with European and Dutch law. It also wants the government to inform Dutch citizens whose data was obtained in this manner.

The legal proceedings were initiated in the Hague district court by the Dutch Association of Defense Counsels, the Dutch Association of Journalists, the Internet Society Netherlands Chapter, the Privacy First Foundation and five private citizens.

The coalition wants to close a loophole through which the Dutch intelligence services can obtain data on Dutch citizens from foreign intelligence partners that it wouldn’t have been able to acquire through legal means in the country.

Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden

The action follows media reports based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies have engaged in the mass collection of electronic communications and phone call records on a global scale.

Dutch Minister of the Interior Ronald Plasterk confirmed recently that the NSA collected information on 1.8 million Dutch phone calls during a single month last year.

The 'Nine Eyes'

The Netherlands is reportedly part of the second-highest level of intelligence sharing between the U.S. and other countries, called the “nine eyes.” This tier includes the intelligence services of the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand—the “five eyes”—plus those of France, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.

According to the complaint, Plasterk publicly condemned the NSA’s mass surveillance and said that such broad collection of data is contrary to Dutch law.

In June, he told the Dutch parliament that AIVD and MIVD were not involved in Prism, an NSA program that reportedly collects data from major technology companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook. However, he acknowledged that information is being exchanged between Dutch intelligence services and those of other countries and that the source of such information or its method of collection is not usually specified.

According to the complaint, the Dutch Minister of Defense Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert also said that the Dutch intelligence services didn’t know about Prism, but that because of how data is shared between services, it cannot be ruled out that Prism data was received and used.

Argument for stopping

The coalition’s lawyers argue that mass data-collection programs like those of the NSA and the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) violate human rights guaranteed by international and European treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

As such, it was illegal in many countries, particularly in the European Union, to obtain data through those programs.

Civil society organizations and citizens in other European countries can and should launch similar legal actions, said Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm, a founding partner of Bureau Brandeis, the law firm that represents the Dutch coalition in this case.

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