Dutch ministries can keep using Yammer despite Patriot Act worries, minister says

Some members of parliament worry government data could secretly be seized by U.S. law enforcement agencies

By Loek Essers, IDG News Service |  IT Management

Dutch ministries can keep using social networking tool Yammer for internal communication despite worries in the parliament that data could secretly be seized by U.S. law enforcement agencies under the U.S. Patriot Act, Liesbeth Spies, minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, said on Wednesday.

Yammer has been used by Dutch ministries for internal communication for a few years. The Ministry of the Interior has been using the social networking tool that allows users to communicate with each other through short messages since 2009, said Angélique van Drunen, spokeswoman for minister Spies. Yammer has for instance been used to share messages, collaborate on documents and for the exchange of agenda information.

The green political party of the Netherlands, GreenLeft, is worried about the government use of U.S.-based applications like Yammer, because the government cannot be certain how their data is handled by those companies. GreenLeft is in particular worried about the Patriot Act, because under that law, data from European users of U.S.-based cloud services can secretly be seized by U.S. law enforcement agencies.

By using Yammer, which was recently acquired by Microsoft, the government is leaking information, the party claims, and it called on the minister to "immediately close this leak."

However, minister Spies disagrees with this view. "I do not think there is a leak. And I therefore consider no further actions," she said in a letter sent to the parliament in which she responded to GreenLeft's concerns. There is no unlimited and uncontrolled access to the data by U.S. authorities, she wrote, referring to an earlier official response to Patriot Act issues in which she said that she was aware that it "cannot be excluded" that U.S. authorities have jurisdiction to demand access to data.

There also are rules that restrict social media use by Dutch government officials, which also apply to Yammer, Spies said. One of the principles of those rules is that it is forbidden to share confidential information, she added.

Yammer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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