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I. Decryption at the Request of Intelligence and Security Services

The main legislative framework for intelligence-gathering in Belgium is the Law of November 30, 1998, Organizing the Intelligence and Security Services. [1] Article 18/17 of this Law provides that intelligence services may “listen to, gain knowledge of, and record communications” in order to fulfill their missions. [2] An intelligence service must obtain prior authorization from a special independent commission before secretly accessing, listening to, or recording private communications. [3] When an intelligence service has obtained the required authorization to conduct this kind of surveillance on an electronic communications network, it can serve a written demand to the network operator or the service provider, upon which the network operator or service provider is required to give technical assistance to the intelligence service. [4] Any person who refuses to give technical assistance pursuant to a properly authorized demand is punishable by a fine of €26 to €10,000 (about US$29 to US$11,270). [5] On the other hand, companies and individuals who cooperate in giving technical assistance are paid for their services on the basis of government-established rates. [6]

The principal statute governing electronic communications in Belgium requires that network operators as well as end users be capable of allowing the authorities to “listen to, gain knowledge of, and record” communications. [7] A Royal Order from 2010 includes electronic communications service providers alongside network operators as being required to have the technical ability to provide clear and readable (decoded, decompressed, and decrypted) copies of communications requested by Belgian intelligence services. [8] It appears, in other words, that service providers and network operators may not use or make available any form of encryption that they would be unable to decrypt themselves.

II. Decryption at the Request of Judicial and Law Enforcement Agencies

The Belgian Code of Criminal Investigations allows investigative judges (juges d’instruction) to “listen to, gain knowledge of, and record” private communications when warranted by certain legally-defined circumstances. [9] An investigative judge must authorize the communication interception operation by a reasoned ordinance, which must be sent to the Royal Prosecutor. [10] An investigative judge may order anyone who has a particular knowledge of the communication service or, if the communication is protected or encrypted, of the protection and encryption service, to help access the communication in a readable format. [11] Refusal to cooperate is punishable by between six months and one year of incarceration, and a fine. [12] A 2003 Royal Order governing the cooperation of electronic communications providers with judicial authorities was amended in 2011 to require that electronic communications service providers and network operators have the technical ability to provide clear and readable copies of communications requested by Belgian judicial authorities. [13]

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Prepared by Nicolas Boring
Foreign Law Specialist
May 2016


[1] Loi du 30 novembre 1998 organique des services de renseignement et de sécurité [Organic Law of November 30, 1998, Organizing the Intelligence and Security Services], http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/cgi_loi/change_lg.pl? language=fr&la=F&table_name=loi&cn=1998113032 , archived at https://perma.cc/58QH-E735.

[2] Id. art. 18/17.

[3] Id. art. 43/1.

[4] Id. art. 18/17.

[5] Id .

[6] Id. art. 18/18.

[7] Loi du 13 juin 2005 relative aux communications électroniques [Law of June 13, 2005, Regarding Electronic Communications] art. 127, http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/cgi_loi/change_lg.pl?language=fr&la=F&cn= 2005061332&table_name=loi , archived at https://perma.cc/92QM-7E5S.

[8] Arrêté royal du 12 octobre 2010 déterminant les modalités de l’obligation de collaboration légale en cas de demandes concernant les communications électroniques par les services de renseignement et de sécurité [Royal Order of October 12, 2010, Establishing the Conditions of the Obligation of Lawful Collaboration in Cases of Demands by Intelligence and Security Services Regarding Electronic Communications] art. 8,http://www.ejustice. just.fgov.be/cgi_loi/loi_a.pl, archived at https://perma.cc/5ZG7-VUL9.

[9] Code d’Instruction Criminelle [Code of Criminal Investigations] art. 90ter, http://www.ejustice.just.fgov. be/cgi_loi/change_lg.pl?language= fr&la=F&table_name=loi&cn=1808111730 , archived at https://perma.cc/N2GE-PMAE.

[10] Id. art. 90quater.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Arrêté royal du 9 janvier 2003 déterminant les modalités de l’obligation de collaboration légale en cas de demandes judiciaires concernant les communications électroniques [Royal Order of January 9, 2003, Establishing the Conditions of the Obligation of Lawful Collaboration in Cases of Judicial Demands Regarding Electronic Communications] art. 6, http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/cgi_loi/loi_a1.pl?sql=%28text%20contains%20%28%27 %27%29%29&language=fr&rech=1&tri=dd%20AS%20RANK&value=&table_name=loi&F=&cn=2003010942&caller=image_a1&fromtab=loi&la=F , archived at https://perma.cc/VAA8-ZVBF.

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Last Updated: 10/01/2016