Justice minister given Big Brother award over terror list errors

Photo: RVD – Valerie Kuypers and Martijn Beekman

Justice minister Dilan Yeşilgöz has been named as the biggest violator of privacy in the Netherlands by digital rights campaign group Bits of Freedom.

The group gave its Big Brother award to the caretaker minister, who is also leader of the VVD party, over the treatment of people who were wrongly placed on terror watch lists.

Last year a man from Tilburg was arrested in a hotel room in Spain and detained for eight weeks while travelling to Morocco with his family.

Spanish authorities said the 35-year-old man’s name was on a list of people banned from entering the country, but his lawyers said the information was wrong and he had never been suspected of a terrorist offence in the Netherlands.

Yeşilgöz admitted to parliament earlier in the summer that a secret terror “watch list” exists and is shared with the United States security services, but the onus was on people whose names were on the list to satisfy the authorities of their innocence.

Miscarriages of justice

Bits of Freedom director Evelyn Austin said the prize was intended to highlight the need for better anti-terrorism procedures to avoid miscarriages of justice.

“The minister needs to ensure a more secure policy for police regarding when people are placed on a terrorism list and when that information is shared with Interpol.

“But there also needs to be a plan for the immediate removal of people who have been wrongly labelled. That also applies to people whose names are still wrongly included on a terrorism list.”

The justice ministry said in a response that sharing information, including names of suspects, was a “crucial” element of the fight against terrorism. “Unfortunately this threat doesn’t stop at our borders,” a spokesman said.

Yeşilgöz was the clear winner of the award, receiving 42% of the vote from a shortlist of four candidates.

Genocide messages

A second award, chosen by a Bits of Freedom jury, went to the social media networks Meta, X and Telegram, for denying a voice to people communicating from war zones.

The jury also said the companies did too little to moderate or remove messages promoting violence or genocide. “We hope this award will spur governments to bring forward new legislation, including additional sanctions,” said jury member and director of Amnesty Nederland, Dagmar Oudshoorn.

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