Dutch spy agencies can receive NSA data, court rules

Because raw data is shared in bulk, less stringent privacy safeguards apply, the court said

Dutch intelligence services can receive bulk data that might have been obtained by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) through mass data interception programs, even though collecting data that way is illegal for the Dutch services, the Hague District Court ruled Wednesday.

The possibility that data received by Dutch intelligence services AIVD and MIVD could have been collected in a way that would not be legal for the Dutch services, doesn't mean that receiving this data violates international and national treaties, the court said.

The Hague District Court ruled in a civil case file by a coalition of defense lawyers, privacy advocates and journalists who sued the Dutch government last November. They sought a court order to stop the AIVD and MIVD from obtaining data from foreign intelligence agencies that was not obtained in accordance with European and Dutch law.

The coalition's lawyers had argued that the NSA's mass data collection programs violate human rights guaranteed by international and European treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

However, under Dutch law, Dutch intelligence services are allowed to collaborate with the NSA , the court said. And the NSA in turn is bound by U.S. law which, in general, does not conflict with the human rights convention privacy requirements, the court said.

Because the raw data is shared in bulk, less stringent safeguards are necessary than would apply when the data is examined and used, the court said, adding that there is a difference between receiving data and using it for individual cases. Therefore, the general requirements of the ECHR have been met, it said.

The court said it only ruled on general grounds, assessing the actions of the state in general. It suggested the outcome could be different when individual lawsuits or complaints were filed with the relevant institutions.

The plaintiffs called the reasoning of the court "incomprehensible" in a statement. Innocent citizens' privacy rights should prevail over the interests of intelligence services. Because the data exchanged in bulk involves information on many innocent people, more stringent safeguards are needed, they said.

The coalition plans to appeal the ruling.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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