The municipality of Veenendaal maintains that there is little wrong with a secret investigation that it had carried out into the Islamic community in the city. That’s what the mayor says after a external research by a consultancy firm to the state of affairs surrounding the 2018 report.
Last October, NRC reported that at least ten Dutch municipalities, including Veenendaal, had commissioned secret research into mosques. Researchers from the NTA agency observed visitors without their knowledge and drew up reports full of privacy-sensitive information. For example, the Veenendaal report, which is in the hands of NRC, stated which families are arguing with each other, who run the mosques, who teach there, and which messages the imams carry out. Two brothers from an Islamic foundation are mentioned where they studied and what their role is “behind the scenes”.
Privacy experts have previously argued that this method goes too far. Mosque authorities were angry because they did not know that their faith community was under investigation.
Unlike Veenendaal, municipalities such as Leidschendam-Voorburg and Zoetermeer previously admitted after an independent investigation that it was not allowed and apologized.
In Veenendaal, consultancy Verdonck, Klooster & Associates now states that the municipality should have collected this data. Veenendaal mayor Gert-Jan Kats reacted with satisfaction. “It is good to see that the investigation confirms that the municipality and NTA have acted carefully and according to the guidelines of the time,” Kats said in a press release. The mayor calls the report “a good basis for working together with the Muslim community in Veenendaal on a future-proof relationship”. The investigation will be discussed in the city council on Monday evening.
It is good to see that the investigation confirms that the municipality and NTA have acted carefully and according to the guidelines of the time
Gert-Jan Kats Mayor of Veenendaal
According to the consultancy, a lot of information was plucked from social media from the mosque report. For example, the report contains Facebook photos ‘of some prominent preachers’ and ‘companion photos of group activities’. According to the agency, this would no longer have been appropriate by ‘current standards’, but it was still possible a few years ago.
The report mentions ‘special personal data’ of several Islamic leaders in Veenendaal, such as their nationality and religion. For the conclusion that the municipality was allowed to process that information, the consultancy refers to a legal advice from the neighboring municipality of Ede, where the same discussion took place. Because this advice would show that Ede was allowed to collect this data, it was also allowed in Veenendaal, the bureau argues. However, the legal advice is incomplete on that point: it actually stated that the processing of special personal data went ‘too far’.
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Another reason why the consultancy has come to the conclusion that the mosque investigation fits within the law is that no ‘undercover’ work has been carried out. Veenendaal officials and NTA are said to have agreed that there would be no secret work. The agency bases this on what officials and NTA themselves have said about this. “The establishment of facts must partly rely on memories of the persons involved,” the agency writes. NTA has destroyed all material surrounding the investigations. According to NTA, this is “standard policy”. That is why the consultancy has interviewed six civil servants. If at least two of them made the same claim, it was accepted as truth by the agency and recorded as “fact” in the report.
The consultancy still has the necessary ‘points of attention’ for the municipality, especially regarding the recording of privacy risks. But this should all be seen in the time of 2018. In the meantime, things would be better with ‘the anchoring of privacy’ in Veenendaal.