Dutch police now include internet in phone taps

POSTED: 07/21/15 7:02 PM

Whatsapp-messages are protected by privacy rules

St. Maarten – Dutch police now automatically intercept internet traffic when setting up a telephone tap, online magazine Computerworld reported yesterday. The news was buried in the justice ministry’s annual report which was published in May and has only now been made public, the website states.

In St. Maarten tapping IP-addresses, for instance to intercept email traffic, is technically possible, press prosecutor Karola van Nie told this newspaper yesterday. She declined to say whether investigators are using this option. However, so far there have been few local court cases where evidence against defendants was based on intercepted internet-traffic.

Attorney Cor Merx says however that investigators do tap internet-communication. He refers to a recent court case against an employee of SZV where Whatsapp-messages were brought into evidence.

In this context, the court in Arnhem ruled in April against investigators who had lifted information from the smartphone of a man who was arrested for public violence. Among the information detectives retrieved was a whatsapp-conversation. This was printed and added to the dossier.

The court ruled that this violated the defendant’s right to privacy and it excluded the conversation from evidence.

In the Dutch report, the justice ministry says officials placed more than 25,181 taps last year, down around 1,000 from 2013. However, the ministry says in a footnote that it no longer gives separate figures for internet taps because they are now “technically and procedurally standard.”

In 2013, investigators placed 17,800 taps on IP addresses. Privacy group Bits of Freedom said the change breaks government pledges to improve transparency. In addition, tapping internet connections is much more privacy-sensitive than a phone, spokesman Rejo Zenger told the website. The Netherlands is said to carry out more phone taps than any other country in the world. Last year, Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk refused to reveal how many taps are placed by the Dutch security services AIVD and MIVD.

Merx says that the authorities in St. Maarten do have access to internet-traffic. “If someone distributes porn and they are unable to establish where it comes from, they go to the internet-provider,” he said.

These specific actions make sense, but whether regular internet-traffic is safe for citizens who become suspects in criminal investigations in St. Maarten remains for now a big question mark.

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