NSA intercepted data from millions of Dutch phone calls

Information from the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals that in one month last year, the American spy agency intercepted data from around 1,8 million phone calls in the Netherlands.

The information was first published in the German news weekly De Spiegel over the summer, but the lack of context for the figures made them difficult to interpret. Dutch technology website Tweakers has interpreted after further information in French newspaper Le Monde.

The 1,8 million calls represent metadata calls, showing in each case the number called. Whether the location was also stored in unclear, as is how the NSA came by the information in the first place.

The graph published by De Spiegel shows the degree of Dialled Number Recognition (DNR) in different countries. DNR or caller ID indicates the capacity of the NSA to monitor phone numbers.

If someone calls one of these numbers, the NSA automatically picks up the call. They are also able to scan text messages for certain keywords. How often this happens is currently unknown.

This information comes after Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who cooperates with Edward Snowden, revealed that the Netherlands has no idea of the extent of NSA spying in the country.

Official response

Minister of the Interior Ronald Plasterk has said that he wants to speak to the United States very soon about the NSA’s interception activities in the Netherlands.

He has also said, however, that the Dutch government has already voiced its worries and concerns to the Americans.

A European working group is currently being set up to uncover the facts about the NSA’s activities, and according to Minister Plasterk a report will be complete soon.

Other politicians are not so blithe about the revelations. One VVD member of Parliament called it "disappointing."

"If you said that the Chinese and the Russians are doing it, it wouldn’t surprise anyone. But this a country with whom we work, which makes it even more conflicting," said Klaas Dijkhoff.

SP member Ronald van Raak said that there are "serious indications that the US secret service NSA can listen to, store and analyse virtually all the information Dutch citizens exchange via telephone and internet. This is a violation of our fundamental rights."

He believes that Parliament must now take responsibility itself for the investigation, which might include inviting Edward Snowden to speak to Parliament. "I would prefer that the Minister ensures that Snowden is not extradited to the United States," he added.

Worse elsewhere

With 1,8 million wiretapped phone calls in a month, spying in the Netherlands is much less than in France, where over the same period 70 million calls were intercepted, according to Le Monde.

The newspaper has also seen documents which show that between over one month earlier this year February the NSA collected, throughout the world, 124,8 billion telephone data items and 97,1 billion computer data items.

US President Barack Obama called his French counterpart Francois Hollande to respond to the revelations. Hollande had said in a statement that he condemned the NSA’s practices to Obama, calling them "unacceptable between allies."

This was followed by further revelations from Germany, where an investigation by German intelligence following Der Speigel's report revealed that the NSA had been monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel's private mobile telephone.

Merkel, then convinced these reports were substantiated, called US President Barack Obama to demand an explanation. The White House released a statement saying that they were not now nor were they planning to monitor Merkel's conversations. When asked by The Guardian about the NSA's actions in the past, they refused to comment.

A classified memo, one of the cache provided by Snowden, has just been released showing that the NSA has monitored the phone converstaions of 35 world leaders, after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department.

The NSA memo from 2006 discusses how US officials can help by sharing their "Rolodexes" or phone lists with the agency as potential sources of information.

The French and German governments have now demanded talks with the US government over the information.

Sources: Tweakers, De Speigel, Le Monde,The Guardian,Volkskrant

Alexandra Gowling


Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in Asia before coming to the Netherlands a year ago. She enjoys writing, reading...

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