Email privacy in Dutch constitution

Alex Le Heux alexlh at
Mon Aug 25 06:19:13 PDT 1997

Hash: SHA1


In the Dutch constitution it says that (snail) mail is personal and 
private. It is illegal to open mail. Except of course with the usual 
warrants. And there used to be a special division of the PTT (the 
Dutch phone/mail company) that had the right to open mail that 
couldn't be delivered or had other problems. These people had to take 
all kinds of oaths. On the whole it wasn't easy to (legally) read 
someone else's mail.

There is currently a proposal to change the constitution(1) so that 
email is specifically included in this.

I'll attempt a translation of the article here (the original can be 
found at

- --- BEGIN ---

Privacy of encrypted email
- --------------------------

Email will be part of the 'privacy of letters' (== briefgeheim) as is 
written down in the constitution, if the proposal passes through 
parliament, and the new parliament in 1998.

The government says this needs to be done as the old law is obsolete. 
Also, since the Dutch PTT has been privatised there is no minesterial 
control anymore. The two most important parts are:

1. The right to communicate privately is inalienable, except in cases 
described by law, by those who are appointed by law.

2. The law describes rules to protect private communications.

The law seems strange when seen from a multimedia perspective. 
Video/images will, in principle not be protected by it, as it is 
neither written text or spoken word. If the video/images are meant 
for a limited group of people, for example when communicating through 
lip-reading (?), it will be protected.

Faxes and unencrypted email will not be protected, as those are like 
postcards. Also information about the communications, like the fact 
that email has been sent, should not be protected according to the 

The point is that persons can communicate in private, and that this 
is clear. The sender will have to use encryption to indicate that 
secrecy is wanted, otherwise the communications will not be protected 
(by this law). Telephone conversations will also be private, except 
in the case of someone being withing earshot of it.

Changes in the constitution have to be approved by to consecutive 
parliaments. So it will take at least a year before this proposal 
will have the force of law.

- --- END ---

Hmm... Looking back at this translation, I don't think it's very 
good. But it'll have to do for now. I'll post any other relevant 
information I find.

I wonder if this will be the first constitution in the world that'll 
mention encryption specifically... 


(1) To change the constitution in The Netherlands, the parliament has 
to vote on it, then there have to be new elections, and then the new 
parliament has to vote on it as well. This is to (try to) ensure that 
governments do not change the constitution on a whim.
Version: PGP for Personal Privacy 5.0
Charset: noconv


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