Dutch agency was intercepting phone data, not the NSA
Dutch government ministers have admitted that it was not the American National Security Agency (NSA) that intercepted data from millions of Dutch phone calls in late 2012/early 2013, as was reported in October 2013.
According to Minister of the Interior Ronald Plasterk and Minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the data from the 1,8 million phone calls and messages were in fact collected by the Dutch National Signals Intelligence Organisation (NSO).
The data were only then shared with the NSA, a revelation which is surprising, given that in October 2013 Plasterk said that the government was aware that the NSA could tap Dutch phone data and they had spoken to the U.S. government about it.
Earlier reporting on phone tapping
The initial reports on the massive interception of phone calls in the Netherlands, as well as in Germany and France, came from information published in the German newspaper Der Spiegel.
Its reporting was based on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, from which it apparently appeared that the American agency was responsible.
What information is intercepted
The Dutch data come from "wireless" communications, such as calls, messages and e-mails via satellite phones or radio traffic. The content of the discussions themselves is not tapped, but the data is examined for patterns, to see who called whom and how often.
The intercepted data was emphatically not, according to a spokesperson for Minister Plasterk, from calls and text messages between Dutch mobile phones, as had previously been reported. Mobile telephony is "wired" communication, as it is sent through transmission towers.
According to the ministers, the data were collected "in the context of counter-terrorism and military operations abroad" and that the interception happened "in the context of the legal performance of tasks."
Data interception in the Netherlands
The NSO has two antennas in the Netherlands, one in Burum in Friesland and the other in Eibergen in Gelderland. From these the organisation can monitor satellite phone and high-frequency radio communications in places as far away as Afghanistan, for example, as well as in the Netherlands itself.
The organisation, which works for the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AVID) and the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MVID), must according to the law have prior permission to tap data.
According to Minister Hennis, it was necessary to come out with this information now for two reasons.
Firstly, because the coverage of the story had created am incorrect impression in the public debate and secondly, because of a court case filed by a number of individuals and organisations (including the Dutch Association of Journalists) against the Dutch state.
Possible parliamentary inquiry
Dutch political party D66 considers it inevitable that there will be a parliamentary inquiry over the interception of telephone data, according to MP Gerard Schouw.
"The minister indicated that this was done in the context of counter-terrorism and military operations. Is it therefore necessary to store 1,8 million phone calls in a month? How many terrorists does the minister think are roaming the Netherlands? This is disproportionate."
Socialist Party MP Ronald van Raak said that, "First, the minister said we don’t do these things in the Netherlands. Then he said it was the Americans. Now he says it is us.
"Apparently the minister responsible for the secret services does not know himself what goes on there. That is very disturbing."
The Christian Union party said these revelations make it clear that the democratic supervision of the Dutch intelligence services is inadequate.
VVD MP Klaas Dijkhoff wants clarification over what information exactly is contained in this data and if any of it is from Dutch people, as well as how often that happened.
He does not, however, consider the case so urgent that the House of Representatives must immediately debate the issue.