Dutch govt rejects idea of no-spy agreements between European countries

At the request (in Dutch) of MP Gerard Schouw (D66), the Dutch Minister of the Interior, Ronald Plasterk, on March 3rd 2015 responded to the report Mass surveillance (.pdf, Jan 26; mirror) that was written by Pieter Omtzigt, a Dutch member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). (More on that report here.) Omtzigt’s report was the basis for a draft resolution (.pdf) of the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. In his response, Plasterk rejects the proposal of a multilateral “Intelligence Codex”, i.e., a no-spy treaty between European countries, citing it is unrealistic and would irresponsibly limit intelligence collection:

Concerning the recommendation to provide a multilateral “Intelligence Codex”, as proposed, I have serious doubts. A Codex in which signatory countries lay down that they will not exercise investigatory powers against each other for, for instance, political reasons, is not realistic. The intelligence tasks of the AIVD and MIVD — that notably involve intelligence collection concerning covert political and military intentions and activities of other countries — would  be limited in an irresponsible manner.

(Original Dutch: “Wat betreft de aanbeveling om te voorzien in een multilaterale «Intelligence Codex», zoals wordt voorgesteld, bestaan bij mij ter zake ernstige aarzelingen. Een Codex waarbij de aangesloten landen zich er op vastleggen dat men geen onderzoeksbevoegdheden jegens elkaar zal toepassen voor bijvoorbeeld politieke redenen, is niet realistisch. De inlichtingentaken van de AIVD en de MIVD – waar het juist ook gaat om inlichtingen in te winnen omtrent heimelijke politieke en militaire intenties en activiteiten van andere landen – zouden zo op onverantwoorde wijze kunnen worden ingeperkt.”)

On March 12th, Dutch news paper Volkskrant published an article (in Dutch) about it. Here is a translation of that article (hyperlinks and parts in [] are mine):

Dutch Minister of the Interior rejects no-spy treaty proposal

by Huib Modderkolk

Following the revelations about spying, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe wrote a comprehensive report [.pdf] about espionage. Led by Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt (CDA), the Council spoke with several specialists, including NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The report urges countries to make rules for the collection of information located in other European countries, and to establish a so-called “intelligence codex”. One of the recommendations is to allow Member States’ intelligence services to apply the same rules that also apply in their own country. That should prevent secret services from spying on citizens of other countries in a way that is not permitted in their own country.


For instance, the British GCHQ hacked Belgian telecom operator Belgacom to covertly access, for 2.5 years, communications of European institutions. Countries that make a no-spy agreement mutually abstain from “political, economic and diplomatic” espionage. The codex is an idea of ​​former director of the German secret service and former Secretary of State for Justice, Hansjörg Geiger, and could for instance apply to a group of European countries.

Minister Plasterk does not find it realistic and does not see a use for it. “The intelligence tasks of the two services — that in fact includes intelligence collection about covert political and military intentions and activities of other countries — would then be limited in an irresponsible way,” Plasterk says. In October 2013 he said [in Dutch] a plan for a no-spy treaty with the United States was an “attractive idea”, and he would explore whether it is a viable path. Britain and the US have such an agreement.

Pieter Omtzigt, as one of the authors of the report, regrets Plasterk’s response. “Now that so much has become clear about the NSA eavesdropping in friendly nations, it is regrettable that the government did not support the proposal of the former head of the German BND, mr. Geiger, to establish a codex”, Omtzigt says.

“The NSA eavesdropped on more than 100 friendly governments (including Merkel), and sometimes entire countries. And there is no protection for data acquired ‘elsewhere’. It is also unwise for the Netherlands to reject the idea before other countries responded to it.”


In 2014, the House passed a motion [in Dutch] submitted by MP Segers (Christian Union) in which the government was requested “to consult with allied governments and agencies to establish explicit agreements concerning respect for human rights.” In response, Plasterk stated the General Intelligence & Security Service (AIVD) and the Military Intelligence & Security Service (MIVD) are working to establish standards for cooperation between European intelligence services, in which “respect for human rights sets boundaries for the framework.”

According to the report of the Council of Europe, current intelligence practice is  a “fundamental threat to human rights”. An “intelligence codex”, among others, should have changed that.

New Dutch intelligence law in the making

MP Recourt (Labour Party) therefore calls it a “sympathetic plan”. Recourt: “I support the basic idea, let’s do it.” Because he does not expect intelligence will abide by the rules, he also advocated sanctions for countries that violate the agreements.

MP Schouw (D66) does not understand the rejection of the no-spy treaty by Plasterk. He points out that a new intelligence law for the AIVD and MIVD is in the making. “But such a law is pointless if you do not first address this. Friendly services will go ahead regardless of what we put into law.” As an example, he mentions the hacking of SIM card manufacturer Gemalto service by the British GCHQ. Schouw: “Minister Plasterk has plenty of time, and he can leave an important legacy. Let him advocate a no-spy treaty. “

Other countries have yet to comment on the idea.