The privacy of correspondence is a fundamental legal right enshrined in article13 of the Dutch constitution. It protects individuals from having government officials or other third parties read the content of sealed letters. This principle has been extended to other forms of communication, such as telephony. At the moment, the content of communication that takes place electronically (such as emails) does not fall within the scope of this right.
On April 18, 2017, the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) voted in favor of a legislative proposal to amend the current privacy of correspondence right. The legislative proposal aims to modernize the right in order for it to better apply to current practices of correspondence, which includes electronic communication.
Questions have already been raised with regard to this proposal, specifically with regard to the exception that the proposal allows for. The exception states that in the interest of the general public, government officials can override this correspondence privacy right and can legitimately read contents of electronic correspondence, without obtaining prior consent to do so from a competent judge. Moreover, certain government agencies, such as the General Intelligence and Security Service, will be given the absolute right to independently determine whether a specific case calls for an exception or not. The critical remarks also point out that the grounds for these exceptions are too broad and vague. Furthermore, the proposal does not include metadata, which often times discloses highly sensitive information.
Thus whilst the legislative proposal aims to strengthen individual’s current right to privacy of correspondence by modernizing it, it is not certain that it will adequately do so in practice. As the legislative proposal concerns an amendment to the constitution, the proposal can only be adopted if the next parliament votes in favor of the proposal by a majority of two thirds. Perhaps the current privacy related objections will be addressed prior to the next vote taking place.