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News agency's computer system hacked by civil servants; IPI calls for independent investigation

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 6 November 2007 IPI press release:

Vienna, 6 November 2007

IPI Calls on Dutch Government to Conduct an Independent Investigation into the Hacking of a News Agency's Computer System

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, strongly condemns the repeated hacking of a Dutch press agency's internal computer system by civil servants working for the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, and calls on the government to conduct a transparent and independent investigation into the matter.

According to information before IPI, the Dutch Geassocieerde Pers Diensten (GPD), an independent press agency, was alerted to the possibility of illicit activity when a ministry press officer voiced objections over a story that had not yet been published.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment subsequently acknowledged that several of its employees had regularly accessed GPD's internal Website during the course of one year to view unpublished stories as well as the organization's internal agenda. Social Affairs and Employment Minister Piet Hein Donner has since announced that several spokespersons have been temporarily suspended in connection with the matter. It remains unclear who provided the necessary login information to the Ministry's staff members.

In early November, GPD announced its intention to file a complaint about the matter with the police. In addition, the Dutch parliament has asked for an explanation from Minister Donner, with several opposition parties indicating they will also raise the issue. Public prosecution also remains a possibility, and an investigation is currently underway to determine whether criminal charges are appropriate. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment has issued a statement voicing its "regret" over the matter, and has vowed to investigate the incident.

"These repeated attempts to spy on, and possibly interfere with, the independent media are particularly troubling in light of the country's strong commitment to the principle of press freedom," said IPI Director Johann P. Fritz. "While there may be other explanations for this incident, IPI believes these are issues best considered in an open and objective investigation, not one headed by the very ministry it is supposed to scrutinize. We therefore urge the Dutch government to initiate an independent inquiry and to publish a report available to the public highlighting the extent of this practice, including those responsible, those who made use of the information and whether other government ministries have also interfered with the independent media."

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