Police collecting demonstrators’ personal data on a large scale

The police are constantly collecting the personal data of demonstrators, like their addresses, citizen’s service numbers, and date of birth, even if they’ve never been arrested. The police also collect data on some demonstrators’ family members, like parents or children, Investico, De Groene Amsterdammer, and Investico, and Trouw report based on 67 demonstrators’ personal files.

The police get the data from the Personal Records Database (BRP), a database containing information on every resident of the Netherlands. According to the police, accessing this database is necessary for the performance of its duty. The police use the data to trace suspects, process reports, make contact with demonstrators, or offer victim support.

Since 2021, every citizen can ask their municipality for an overview of data traffic between the police and BRP. Investico asked demonstrators to do so, and 67 shared their personal files with the investigative journalists. These are mainly climate and anti-racism activists but also coronavirus protestors and anti-fascists.

Before the people involved became active in protests, the police only requested their data for things like bicycle fines or if they filed a police report themselves. After they participated in demonstrations, the requests for their data skyrocketed. For example, the police requested personal data on coronavirus protester Michel Reijinga over 1,400 times in two years.

Ten of the 67 demonstrators have never been arrested. For seven of them, the police accessed their data on the BRP more than 50 times. The police retrieved the data of a Kick Out Zwarte Piet demonstrator over 300 times. Data of demonstrators’ families are also requested. According to Trouw, a police spokesperson could not explain why.

The involved demonstrators are shocked. “The government is trying to disqualify me because they don’t like my message,” Marisella de Cuba of Kick Out Zwarte Piet told Trouw. “What are my rights worth then?”

“The right to demonstrate is at stake,” Bart Schermer, professor of privacy and cybercrime at Leiden University, said to the newspaper. “If you are being watched all the time, you can no longer demonstrate freely.”

The BRP files also showed that four demonstrators are in the “safety house” system – a consultation in which the police, municipality, and judiciary discuss the files of citizens suspected of serious crimes, domestic violence, or needing rehabilitation. One of the demonstrators received a surprise visit from the safety house’s psychologist. “Peaceful demonstrators who express their opinion should never end up in such systems,” said Schermer.

Lawyer Benedicte Ficq, who represents activists in the climate movement Extinction Rebellion, called the police’s methods frightening. “It’s like a police state.”

In response, the police told the journalists that the purpose of the data processing is recorded “very generally,” for example, “to maintain legal order.” So the police can’t say specifically why they requested demonstrators’ information. Details of relatives are requested if demonstrators are guilty of serious public order disturbances, for example, the police said. According to Trouw, the files show that the police also asked for relatives’ data for demonstrators that have never been arrested.

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