Dutch intelligence services broke rules in eavesdropping on lawyers, journalists

The AIVD building in Zoetermeer
The AIVD building in ZoetermeerPhoto: S.J. de Waard / Wikimedia Commons

Dutch intelligence services AIVD and MIVD violated multiple rules in the period between October 2015 and March 2016 when eavesdropping on conversations with lawyers and journalists, according to the body that oversees the services CTIVD, the Volkskrant reports. 

The AIVD illegally eavesdropped on three conversations between a target and his or her lawyer, according to the CTIVD. This involved "indirect tapping" - the AIVD was listening in on conversations of a suspected terrorist and in doing so als listened to conversations the suspect had with a lawyer. 

Listening in on conversations between lawyers and their clients can only be done with permission from a special commission, which the AIVD did not have. The CTIVD also points out that the content of the discussions do not indicate a threat to national security - another requirement for listening in on conversations between lawyers and clients.

The AIVD also broke the rules when hacking a Dutch man abroad, of whom it was unclear whether he still practiced as a lawyer. According to the CTIVD, the AIVD should have done a sounder investigation into whether or not, and to what extent, the man still practiced as a lawyer before hacking him.

Military intelligence service MIVD broke the rules when recording a conversation a target had with a foreign lawyer, while there was no indication that national security was threatened, the CTIVD said. The conversation must therefore be destroyed. 

A worrying point is that it is unclear to what extent the AIVD and MIVD violated the source protection of journalists. Unlike with lawyers, there are no specific rules around not listening to conversations between a journalist and his or her source. Here too it involved "indirect tapping", the source was tapped not the journalist. The AIVD tapped a person to find out with which journalists he had contact with, and it is unclear whether the AIVD was acting improperly.

The CTIVD calls for stricter rules around listening in on conversations with journalists, especially with the upcoming Big Data law that will give the AIVD and MIVD the power to download traffic from internet cables and in some cases store it for up to three years. The CTIVD wants the same rules to apply for journalists as for lawyers. This includes getting permission in advance to listen in to conversations between journalists and sources.