Interior Min. tried to hide critical Big Data law report until after referendum: report

Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs votes in the Amsterdam municipal election at Amsterdam Centraal, 21 March 2018
Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs votes in the Amsterdam municipal election at Amsterdam Centraal, 21 March 2018. (Photo: Ministry of Home Affairs / @MinBZK / Twitter)

Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations did not want a critical report from the supervisor on the Dutch intelligence services to be published just before the referendum on the new law for the intelligence services, Nieuwsuur reports based on documents received after appealing to the freedom of information act and the Intelligence and Security Service Act.

The referendum on the Intelligence and Security Act, also called the Big Data law or data mining law by opponents, was held on the same day as the municipal elections, March 21st. The report by the committee on supervision of the intelligence services CTIVD was eventually published a week later. 

A week before the referendum, an official wrote in an email: "Min BZK [the minister] has decided that, now that the report can not be sent some time before the referendum, sending it after the referendum is preferable. This time will also be needed for carefully coordinating our line with foreign partners", according to Nieuwsuur. 

The Ministry denies that the timing of publication was related to the referendum. The delay in publishing the report only had to do with the coordination with foreign countries, a spokesperson said to Nieuwsuur. "The Minister wanted to make the report public in its entirety, without any whitewashing. Precisely because of the importance of transparency. Reaching an agreement on this with the foreign intelligence services took time."

In the report, the CTIVD concluded that privacy must be better protected when the Dutch intelligence agencies AIVD and MIVD exchange data with foreign intelligence services. The requested documents show that a first version of the report was already at the office of the Minister of Home Affairs in mid-September 2017, according to Nieuwsuur. Because the report discussed international partnerships, its release had to be coordinated with foreign intelligence services. They received a first version on November 30th and had three weeks to respond. Based on their response, part of the report was declared secret, but its conclusions were left unchanged.

On February 9th the Minister received the final report. The Minister then had six weeks to send the report to parliament. The final day of that six weeks was March 23rd, two days after he referendum. She planned to send the report by mid-March, according to Nieuwsuur. There was then a discussion about whether passages should be omitted from the final report. The Minister said that that coordination took so long because she did not want to omit anything. 

On March 12th the Minister received a draft letter with a summary of the report to be sent to the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament. On March 15th the official wrote the email saying that the Minister decided to publish the report after the referendum. On March 20th an email was sent saying that the Minister did not want to publish the report over a weekend and that the report would be published on March 28th. 

According to Nieuwsuur, the documents show that the coordination with foreign services was important, but nowhere does it say why this could not be completed by mid-March. 

Opposition parties SP and PvdA want an explanation for why the publishing of the report was delayed. "Very remarkable", SP parliamentarian Ronald van Raak said to Nieuwsuur. "She said in the Tweede Kamer that she wanted to send it as quickly as possible. These documents show that she did not do so. So at the least she did not inform the Kamer properly. And she deliberately excluded very important information from the independent supervisor of the secret services from the debate."

PvdA parliamentarian Atje Kuiken said she was "very unpleasantly surprised, because we constantly asked the minister why the report was not sent to the Tweede Kamer before. This is very important information: privacy and national security. You simply have to be open about that."