A defiant Dutch ISP made a successful start in its court battle with the country's Ministry of Justice over its refusal to tap the Internet activities of one of its subscribers.
A court in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, stepped down on the first day of the hearing after Amsterdam-based ISP XS4ALL protested that it would not receive a fair hearing outside its home city. It could now take several months for the case to be rescheduled in Amsterdam.
Last October, XS4ALL was asked by the Ministry to tap all the Web, Internet Relay Chat, email and other Internet activities of one of its subscribers who was under investigation by the Dutch police.
But XS4ALL refused to cooperate, saying there was no adequate legal basis for intruding the privacy of one of its subscribers. The ISP also said existing tapping laws were applicable only to telephony, and computer security laws didn't permit tapping.
When XS4ALL received the court summons earlier this month, it said it was very confident of victory. Confidence remains high following the first hearing, said XS4ALL spokesman Maurice Wessling.
By moving the case to Amsterdam, the Ministry will have to use a different prosecutor to the one used in Utrecht. XS4ALL said it welcomed the fact that he would no longer be prosecuting.
XS4ALL now plans to use the original prosecutor as a witness since it was him that asked XS4ALL to tap the account in the first place - something XS4ALL says he did illegally.
"The prosecutor has tried to take control of the whole process from beginning to end and was trying to make our defence as difficult as possible," said Wessling. "Now it will be much fairer."
But the case could take a long time to reschedule, according to Wessling. "In general the courts, especially in Amsterdam, have long waiting lists. It could take months," he said.
Since the XS4ALL tapping refusal occurred, the Dutch government has outlined, but not yet introduced, a new law that permits tapping of all forms of communications, including the Internet. ISPs are unclear about how this law operates, and say the government has not understood the technology involved.
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