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Who's listening to your call? One in 1,000 Dutch phones is wiretapped

Around one in every 1,000 phones in the Netherlands is tapped by the authorities, even though researchers say the method is an inefficient and outdated way of gathering evidence.

Satellite receivers in Burum, Friesland, are used to intercept phone communications.A report by the Ministry of Justice said the growing use of the internet to communicate and share information was making phone-tapping increasingly ineffective.

The method rarely produces direct evidence of a crime because criminals are usually aware that their phones are being tapped. Dutch prosecution authorities are obliged to inform people when they become the subject of a wiretapping order.

Despite this, more than 22,000 wiretapping orders were issued in 2010, according to the Scientific Research and Documentation Centre (WODC), a branch of the justice ministry.

As well as intercepting conversations, police also record the location, length and time of calls, as well as the speakers’ identities. Friends and family members of suspects are routinely tapped as well.

Officials involved in wiretapping told the report’s authors that the procedure involves large amounts of money, time and effort for little gain in terms of direct evidence.

By contrast, just 1,704 internet taps were placed. The report said intercepting internet-based communication had far more potential to yield evidence, particularly with the rising use smartphones and social media.

However, tracking internet use is complicated by the fact that many people in the Netherlands use services based in other countries, which Dutch police have no authority to intercept.

The police are held back by a lack of digital expertise and the absence of clear guidelines about when and how they can access suspects’ computers, according to the WODC.

The report also says Dutch investigators should consider making more use of informers and infiltrators, practices which are much more common in other countries.