Wob proceedings on the Passport Act: what Privacy First has since uncovered
Since September 2009, every Dutch citizen is required to have fingerprints taken when applying for a new passport or identity card. This duty stems from the new Passport Act, which came into force at that time. The development of this law began back in the late 1990s and has been surrounded by mystery to this day. This is despite some WRR studies (by Vincent Böhre and Max Cutter) that brought some light into the darkness at the end of 2010. Following all the fuss around fingerprint storage, a parliamentary hearing on the new Passport Act also took place in April 2011. However, no official record of this hearing exists. An 'unofficial', partial report of it by Privacy First can be found HERE. An excellent article in Vrij Nederland. Yet the shadiness then persisted... What is still under the carpet in the Dutch government? To clear this up Privacy First filed a Wob request earlier this year to the department primarily responsible: the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK). This request related to all government documentation on the introduction of 'biometric features' (including fingerprints) in Dutch travel documents. All in all, then, quite a big job for the 'carpet service' of the BZK
It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it
The file requested by Privacy First is huge and goes back at least to 1997. Both the departmental BZK archives and the external BZK archive in Winschoten were (and are) combed through. The same applies to the personal archives of civil servants. To comply with our Wob request, the Interior Ministry even had to hire extra staff, Privacy First heard via via. Consequently, Privacy First received the first of a (long?) series of partial decisions only after two months, in June 2011. Could this have been done faster if the government had put its archives in better order, those archives had already been digitised and their contents had not been wrongly labelled as confidential or 'state secret'? Or have things actually been delayed rather than accelerated by a parallel research commissioned by Minister Donner since this summer? This research is being conducted by Leiden professor (also former top official) Roel Bekker, so reported Automatisering Gids recently.
Anyway, through partial decrees, the Interior Ministry has been throwing periodic "Wob kludges" at Privacy First for several months. So far, this contains no shocking new material. Given the size of the file, it is mostly very little. Some of its content was already known, some of it particularly fits the (future?) street of the Interior Ministry. At this stage, however, the latter aspect makes it precisely interesting... From today onwards, we will therefore publish all documents received in full on our website. The same applies to a number of documents that were recently published extremely sloppily on the website of the Interior Ministry and that have so far escaped the attention of the media. The entire laundry list of documents can be found below. This list will be continuously added to and commented on by us.
For convenience, Privacy First has already marked the most interesting documents with an asterisk *. Occasionally even a double asterisk ** at the now rumoured TNO report by Ruud van Renesse. Further comments on all pieces will follow as said. So keep a close eye on our website. We wish you much 'reading pleasure'!
*Annex 3a: missing pages Ernst & Young study
Update 30 March 2012: The documents below are relatively interesting, as they show that in mid-2004 there were important questions in the European Parliament (EP) regarding 1) the proportionality and 2) the cost of the introduction of biometrics as a measure against travel document fraud. The documents show that the Dutch government (c.q. BZK) did not have the relevant figures ready and that it took a lot of time and effort to answer the EP questions (only partially). Moreover, the answers show that the figures on fraud were very low and the cost of introducing biometrics very high. Figures on look-alike fraud with travel documents were missing at the time, by the way, at least at the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. The responses mainly mentioned false/falsified documents. This while the reason for introducing biometrics in travel documents was to combat look-alike fraud was; this is a specific, small-scale category within the broader phenomenon of identity fraud. For government statistics on look-alike fraud with Dutch travel documents our recent Wob results from ECID (KMar).
*Annex 1: letter from JHA Committee of the Senate dated 28 May 2004 to minister De Graaf (BZK) following questions by EP rapporteur Sørensen on proportionality and costs of biometrics in travel documents
Update 15 September 2012: Privacy First recently received some more Wob snippets from the Interior Ministry. The material below concerns, among other things, the awarding of an (additional) technical study on biometrics by the Interior Ministry (BPR) to VKA & TNO in the summer of 2002. This was done at the time to the exclusion of TNO expert Ruud van Renesse, who had previously been deemed "too critical" by BPR. You can read more about this affair in our report of the parliamentary hearing on the new Passport Act and in a Interview with Mr Van Renesse in Vrij Nederland. See further the report Happy Landings.
Annex 1: official memorandum from the Director of Projects to the Director-General of Public Administration (DGOB, BZK) dated 14 April 1999, regarding cooperation between the BZK and IND in the development of an electronic ID card (e-NIK)
Annex 2: letter from the Director-General of Public Administration (BZK), dated 19 April 1999, to the Director of IND, regarding cooperation between the BZK and IND in the development of an electronic ID card (e-NIK)
Annex 11: letter of rejection from the Ministry of the Interior (BPR) dated 23 July 2002 to two third parties in response to the above request for tenders from the Ministry of the Interior (see annex 9)
Annex 13: official memo BZK (BPR) dated 18 July 2002 on award of contract additional technical exploration biometrics to combat look-alike fraud
Update 7 December 2012: recently, Privacy First again received some Wob crumbs from the Interior Ministry, including a plan of action by Verdonck, Klooster & Associates (VKA, commissioned by BPR) for follow-up research on the use of biometrics from 2002. Particularly striking in this document is the following passage on p. 39: "Limited information is available on the nature and extent of look-alike fraud with Dutch travel documents. (...) In the absence of a somewhat realistic picture of the extent to which look-alike fraud with Dutch travel documents occurs, it will be impossible to make quantitative statements about the societal benefit that can be realised with the application of biometrics. This need not be a problem if it is sufficient to work with the assumption that biometrics will reduce look-alike fraud." (!) The relevant document can be found below as Annex 3:
Annex 5: internal BZK official memo (BPR) dated 25 September 2001 to minister Van Boxtel on the notification in the JHA Council of Dutch intentions regarding biometrics in travel documents
Update 5 April 2013: this week, Privacy First received some documents from the Interior Ministry relating to an earlier survey on public support for biometrics in travel documents (Bureau Veldkamp, 2003) and the now infamous biometrics practical trial '2b or not 2b' (BZK, 2005). However, the material does not contain much news. On the positive side, the Interior Ministry now publishes the whole thing on its own website; click HERE For Home Affairs sub-decision 6 dated 28 March 2013.
Update 8 August 2013: This week, Privacy First received some old documents from the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations again. These documents show, among other things, the Netherlands' European pioneering role in the field of biometrics in travel documents around 2001/2002. They also show that the Ministry of Security and Justice had different views on biometrics on (and next to...) travel documents. And here and there, there is even mention of DNA... However, it is not clear exactly what the different visions meant; many passages have been deleted. Thus, 12 years after the fact, this dossier unfortunately still remains a black box... Click HERE For Home Affairs sub-decision 7 dated 30 July 2013. What is still under the carpet at the Interior and Justice Ministry?
Update 19 December 2014: today, Privacy First received some old Wob chunks from the Interior Ministry again. These are mostly meaningless, largely black-labelled documents from the years 2001-2002, when the Netherlands initiated the (later) inclusion of fingerprints in all European passports at the European level. Click HERE For Home Affairs sub-decision 8 dated 17 December 2014. Of particular interest is the following passage in a letter from minister Van Boxtel dated 20 February 2002 to his European colleagues: "Some months ago (...) I informed you about the intentions in the Netherlands to include biometric features in travel documents (the passport and identity card). The purpose of this is primarily to introduce so-called look-alike prevent fraud. Secondarily, the use of biometrics offers the possibility of automated border control. (...) Indeed, my intention is to jointly determine in the coming months whether a basis for joint agreements exists and, if so, what could be the best way to achieve their formulation." This eventually resulted in the December 2014 European Passport Regulation.
A subsequent, hopefully more informative sub-decision from the Interior Ministry is unlikely to follow until spring 2015.
Update 1 September 2017: today, BZK partial decision no 9 has finally been published online, see HERE. Again, this material contains little new. However, interesting are the figures on look-alike fraud involving Dutch travel documents at Schiphol Airport in the period 2001-2002, see this letter and this follow-up letter From the Royal Military Police to the Interior Ministry (pdf). Further comments by Privacy First on e.g. may follow.
Update 30 August 2019: The above hyperlinks to the Wob sub-decisions on the website of the Interior Ministry appear to be partly outdated and no longer work. However, all already disclosed documents are digitally in Privacy First's possession and can be requested from us by anyone. Privacy First will also request BZK to update the relevant hyperlinks and republish the same. Incidentally, Privacy First heard from a reliable source that a tenth (also final) partial decision will soon be taken and published by the Interior Ministry.
Update 25 March 2020: Today, the 10th and final Home Affairs sub-decision was finally published, see HERE. Despite the relatively large amount of documents, this again contains little news. Any comments by Privacy First on e.g. may follow.