A defiant Dutch Internet service provider will meet the country's Ministry of Justice head-on in court next week, a year after it refused to tap the Internet activities of one of its subscribers.
But rather than being concerned about possible government action against it, XS4ALL, one of the country's oldest ISPs, says it is very confident of a victory at the hearing in Utrecht on 20 November.
Last October, XS4ALL was asked by the Ministry to tap all the Web, email and other Internet activities of one of its subscribers, who was under investigation by the Dutch police.
However, XS4ALL refused to cooperate, saying there was no adequate legal basis for intruding on the privacy of one of its subscribers. The ISP also said existing tapping laws applied only to telephony, and that tapping was illegal under computer security laws.
"We are very confident that we will win the case," said XS4ALL spokesman Maurice Wessling. "It's a year later, but it's better late than never."
"The government has probably been hesitating to get us into court because it would weaken the case against our customer," said Wessling. If the court finds that the Ministry's tapping order to XS4ALL was illegal, it could jeopardise the police investigation into the customer, 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.
"The government doesn't know what to ask for from ISPs," said Wessling. "Criminal investigators would like to have a real time look into email, IRC and so on, but I haven't seen any government paper that defines how to do that."
Other Dutch ISPs are becoming more cautious about complying with Ministry of Justice warrants in light of the XS4ALL investigation, said Wessling. "ISPs see more possibilities to refuse [a warrant] if they see something not as it should be. This is a very good effect."
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