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Privacy International warns against Netherlands identity campaign

The London-based human rights watchdog Privacy International today attacked Justice Minister Donner's campaign on 'Wet op de uitgebreide identificatieplicht' as an "underhanded" attempt to convince innocent citizens to forego their legal rights.

Last year the organisation advised that the identity legislation would violate both the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

Privacy International today warned that the identity campaign indicated that the Netherlands was moving quickly to becoming Europe's most privacy-invasive and controlled society. Privacy International's Director Simon Davies said: 

Mr Donner knows that a legally enforced requirement to carry identification would invite a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights. Using government propaganda to fool people into believing they should carry identification is deceptive and immoral."

In 2003 the UK government abandoned plans to force its citizens to carry the proposed British identity card.

The law gives a wide range of government and law enforcement officials the power to demand identification in the course of their duties. A penalty of €2,250 (US$2,500) will apply to anyone who does not comply. Refusal will constitute a criminal offence.

The international watchdog has warned that both the toonplicht requirement (obligation to disclose ID) and the draagplicht requirement (obligation to carry ID) will breach key elements of human rights law. They fail the fundamental tests of proportionality, necessity and foreseability.

Privacy International believes that the requirement for children to carry identification violates the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child (article 16). Mr Davies commented: 

This requirement is inexplicable. There is no excuse for requiring or convincing fourteen year old children to carry identity papers."

While acknowledging the last minute changes to the law, Privacy International believes that the Netherlands law continues to violate several fundamental protections under the European Convention on Human Rights. European case law establishes that the State cannot impose a pre-requirement on citizens to yield their rights unless there is an overwhelming necessity to do so. Nor can a "blanket" imposition be established unless it is in the most unusual circumstances (i.e. imminent threat of terrorist attack).

Privacy International's Director, Simon Davies, today condemned the requirements and the campaign as "an offence against the rights of all Europeans" and called on the Parliament to abandon the legislation.

The legislation is also likely to create concern for visitors to the Netherlands. The requirement to carry identification is in direct conflict with conventional advice to travellers to avoid carrying ID unless absolutely necessary. The existence of a substantial fine and a criminal offence will cause significant concern.

The legal arguments against the requirements are overwhelming. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) guarantees every individual the right to respect for his or her private life, subject only to narrow exceptions where government action is imperative. The Donner legislation would interfere with this right by establishing an identity requirement on citizens where no suspicion exists. This interference with the privacy rights of every resident and visitor cannot be justified under the limited exceptions envisaged by Article 8 because it is neither consistent with the rule of law nor necessary in a democratic society

Over the past thirteen years Privacy International has worked extensively to combat identity schemes in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the Philippines. The organisation believes the Netherlands law is one of the most ill-considered, intrusive and pointless identity measures in recent years.

The government of the United Kingdom last year proposed a national identity card scheme, but because of human rights concerns the government reluctantly ruled out a requirement to carry identification in public. The United Kingdom, like the Netherlands, already provides police with authority to establish the identity of suspects in the course of investigations.

The indiscriminate identity requirement initiated by Minister Donner offends a core principle of the rule of law: that citizens should have notice of the circumstances in which the State may conduct surveillance, so that they can regulate their behaviour to avoid unwanted intrusions. Moreover, the requirement would be so extensive as to be out of all proportion to the law enforcement objectives served. Under the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, such a disproportionate interference in the private lives of individuals cannot be said to be necessary in a democratic society.

With regard to the Data Protection law, Privacy International argues that the blanket identification regime breaches the principle of proportionality, that the practice would flout the specificity principle, and that the existence of an identity requirement takes no account of the consent principle. Mr Davies commented: 

This law will create an unacceptable imposition on all residents and visitors to the Netherlands. The law will destroy relations between authorities and the public, and is likely to be abused by over-zealous officials. There is not a shred of evidence that these powers are either desirable or necessary."

The law gives extremely wide scope to officials and law enforcement. It refers to the right to demand identification at any point in the performance of responsibilities or functions. The only requirement is that the demand is "within reason". This is an unacceptably poor safeguard.

In addition, Privacy International's research into the implications of national identity requirements has established that these initiatives have no effect on the reduction of crime or fraud, but introduce additional problems of discrimination, criminal false identity and administrative chaos.

 

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