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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

group of Amsterdam Hells Angels escaped charges of criminal conspiracy because conversations between the bikers and their lawyers had been tapped

group of Amsterdam Hells Angels escaped charges of criminal conspiracy because conversations between the bikers and their lawyers had been tapped and transcribed for years. In 2008, the court in Amsterdam tossed out a case against a mugger who was arrested in his lawyer’s office after the police had listened in on a conversation between the two. To avoid this from happening again, the public prosecutor’s office now wants to make a clean sweep. A committee, led by Arnhem’s public prosecutor Nicole Zandee, has proposed some rigorous measures. For one, the prosecutor’s office should block a number of phone numbers belonging to people with whom suspects should be able to communicate in confidence. If this becomes the norm, prosecutors will no longer destroy the tapped conversations after these have taken place, they will never have access to it. ” We don’t want to hear these discussions at all,” Nicole Zandee explained. Such a system would not solve all the problems the prosecution faces. Suspects also communicate through email and instant messaging, which raises new questions. Is a report a lawyer sends to his client still confidential if he forwards it to third parties? The Netherlands Bar Association has cited a “common interest” in tackling the issue, but it also believes the new measures will be anything but airtight. The blocked numbers list won’t include the switchboard number for large law firms. The Dutch justice department wants to be able to still tap these lines. Criminal defence attorneys’ direct numbers will be blocked, but if a lawyer initiates a conversation, this is commonly done through the switchboard number, meaning the conversation could still be tapped. The prosecutor’s office wants lawyers to limit their business calls to blocked numbers. But the Dutch Bar has countered that this is not always possible. A client calling a law firm’s switchboard from jail would, for instance, be susceptible to phone taps. Registries of confidential phone calls that slip through the cracks of the new system will have to be destroyed. But will they really? Frank Paauw, a deputy police commissioner and a member of the committee chaired by Zandee, explained to the NRC how the destruction process works. “A conversation that needs to be destroyed is ripped apart, torn to digital shreds. The remnants are stored on the server. The computer is then told to overwrite all the bits at random as soon as new information is stored,” he said. But is that “destruction” as required by the law? To Paauw, the matter is one of semantics. “It is unthinkable that such a conversation can be reconstructed,” he said. By the end of the year, the prosecutor’s office hopes to have calculated how many conversations it has illegally transcribed nationwide. The proposed measures should take effect

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