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The importance of the judiciary

In 2020, claims foundation The Privacy Collective (TPC) dragged two adtech companies, Salesforce and Oracle, to court for violating the privacy of millions of Dutch citizens. Bits of Freedom supported the case. Already back in 2019, we ourselves filed complaints with European data protection authorities because of the real-time bidding ad industry. That is still ongoing. In the meantime, privacy violations continue. When rights are violated and the law is not effectively enforced, it makes complete sense that people choose to go to court.

Unfortunately, the court initially ruled that TPC did not have the right to act on behalf of those millions of citizens. TPC appealed and this month the court reached a different conclusion: among other things, she finds that the support of civil society organizations shows that TPC does indeed have standingRead more about the joint claim against Salesforce and Oracle (only available in Dutch).

Why this good news is more than legal nitpicking? Our rights and freedoms cannot be taken for granted. When the government fails to protect citizens' rights, or breaks the law herself, citizens can go to court. A last resort, but certainly not a "hack": the democratic rule of law is, by design, set up that way.

In countries where the democratic rule of law is at risk, you often see attacks on the judiciary. By cutting legal aid, by questioning the independence of judges, or by legislating to restrict access to justice, among others. Sound familiar? Indeed, we see this trend in the Netherlands as well. For example, following the November elections, a majority in Parliament wants to limit the ability of organizations such as Bits of Freedom to challenge government in court. The direct cause are the (successful) lawsuits being brought against the state over failing environmental policyRead more in an article in de Volkskrant (only available in Dutch).

However, when both the legislative and the executive fail, the solution obviously is not to weaken the judiciary. By attempting to do so, the government basically says it will not be held accountable. A strong signal, as if we needed one, that in the coming years citizens might find themselves in desperate need of the court.

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