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Netherlands: Enhanced Police Powers for Missing Person Investigations

(July 28, 2017) On July 19, 2017, consultation via the Internet opened for draft legislation that would speed up missing person investigations by giving Dutch police enhanced powers to request information pertaining to the whereabouts of such persons. The information the police might be able to solicit includes mobile phone and debit card usage, records of use of public transport, and possibly also airline check-in details and CCTV footage located in places where the missing might have been. (Police to Be Given Additional Powers in Missing Persons Enquiries, Ministry of Security and Justice website (July 19, 2017); Wetsvoorstel zoekmiddelen politie [Legislative Proposal on Police Investigative Resources], Government of the Netherlands website (July 19, 2017) (click on hyperlink to view pdf document).) According to the legislation’s sponsor, the Ministry of Security and Justice, “[a]t present, the police have too few resources at their disposal to mount a rapid and effective response” in the case of missing persons. (Police to Be Given Additional Powers in Missing Persons Enquiries, supra.)

Under the proposed legislation, the police and the public prosecutor would be accorded specific investigative powers, “necessary and proportionate to locating the missing person,” in the early stage of urgent missing person inquiries, the stage that may be the most crucial for saving lives. (Id.) “Urgent missing persons” are, for example, those who pose a danger to themselves or who might be in immediate danger, such as suicidal personalities or persons with dementia, or those for whom it is unclear whether the disappearance might be the result of crime, as in the case of adolescent minors or the mentally disabled. (Id.) The new powers would not be used in cases where it is known that a missing person was the victim of a crime (ordinary rules of criminal investigation apply) or has gone missing of their own volition. (Id.)

The draft law provides that, aside from being able to request more types of information, the police may: 

  • conduct a search of a missing person’s vehicle found in a car park;
  • obtain entry to the home of a missing person who lives alone, to look for such items as a passport or diary;
  • investigate an abandoned mobile phone, laptop, or USB flash drive found in connection with the missing person; if the person took the phone with them, the police would be authorized to use location data transmitted by the phone over a data network or to place a tap on the phone, enabling them to determine whether any applications are still active on the phone. (Id.)

The Ministry of Security and Justice emphasized that the public prosecutor or the examining magistrate will play an important role in ensuring that the new police powers do not infringe the person’s privacy. (Id.)