On Friday, 16 October 2015, the Council of Ministers took two important decisions for the telecom sector in general and for BASE Company in particular. First, the Government adopted in first reading a draft bill on the collection and retention of data in the sector of electronic communications. Secondly, the Government ratified an agreement between BASE Company and the State concerning the settlement of the invoices due by the State since 2012 and still outstanding. These are two important decisions, and they are welcomed by BASE Company. We have always said that it is in the very interest of justice that there should be full cooperation between operators and the Justice Department. We have always believed that all parties involved were responsible for this good partnership and that they must honour their obligations.
The obligation for telecom operators to retain certain data of their customers – identity, call history, location, etc – for 12 months and even phone tapping is not new. For many years now, the justice unit of BASE Company, which operates on a 24/7 basis, has received numerous such requests from examining magistrates and public prosecutors. The information that we can give them proves extremely useful for their investigations. And that’s a good thing. Nevertheless, we must make one thing clear: we pass on that kind of information to duly authorized persons only and on the basis of their instruction. It is not for us to judge the relevance of the request or the significance of the requested information insofar as the law so permits.
Changing legislation in response to reality
Following the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005, and in the face of the growing presence of mobile Internet, legislation needed to change in response to those new threats. Whether at the European level or in Belgium, those changes are sometimes made hurriedly and without respecting the privacy of citizens in terms of the proportionality of the data to be retained. For that reason, both the European Court of Justice and the Belgian Constitutional Court annulled the European directive and the Belgian data retention act. BASE Company took note of those decisions at the time. We greeted the new bill with interest, as it coupled the protection of personal data of citizens with an adaptation of the law to the current state of technology. If the legislative process goes as planned, the draft bill should be passed in the next few weeks. Operators, examining magistrates and public prosecutors will then have a clear and stable legislative framework to work in.
Justice has no price, but it does have a cost
BASE Company, like the other operators, is obliged to work together with the law, as we have done for many years now. Nevertheless, that collaboration involves a considerable cost for BASE Company: keeping staff on hand on a 24/7 basis, IT developments, ultra-secure data storage, etc. Since 2003, the State has specified which costs we can charge to the Justice Department for each of its requests. Each month, we send our invoices, which are then validated. We only charge for what we are asked to do, and we carry out those requests scrupulously. Since 2012, however, the State has failed to settle any of its invoices. All our requests have been met with a simple refusal, even though the work was done, and done correctly. Finally, after many months of discussions and legal proceedings, the State has at last agreed to settle the sums in question. This is not a victory for BASE Company; it is simply just recompense for work done.
Two decisions were taken by the Government last Friday. The first to a large extent settles old business with the payment of our outstanding invoices. The second moves ahead with a clear and stable legal framework for telecom operators. BASE Company is pleased with the first, which is but an assertion of its rights, and greets the second with favour. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, BASE Company wants to cooperate fully with the law; a total cooperation, where all parties assume their responsibilities and honour their obligations.