Jehovah’s Witnesses stop collecting personal data during house visits

Jehovah's Getuigen GDPR
Originally posted in Dutch on RTL Nieuws by Koen de Regt

Jehovah’s Witnesses in The Netherlands have stopped collecting data regarding residents where they call at their homes. This is according to an internal letter that is in the hands of RTL News.

Until last week, as much data as possible was recorded and saved about everyone who showed any interest in the religious organization. European privacy laws have forced the Jehovah’s Witnesses to stop.

Name, address, language, ethnicity and telephone number

Proclaiming their faith by calling at people’s doors is an important part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious activities. Until recently, so-called ‘publishers’ were encouraged to write down the name, address, language, ethnicity and where possible, the telephone number. “We must return to those who show interest and teach them, watering the seeds of truth that we have planted”, read an earlier internal publication.

Detailed data was also kept where people had indicated in recent years that they had no interest in Jehovah’s Witnesses. The organization will now also stop doing that. If someone indicates that they no longer want to be visited, “the publisher should make a note of the date and address only and place it in the territory record so that publishers working the territory in the future will not call at that address,” read the internal instruction.

European Court judgment against the Jehovah’s

This new method is a direct consequence of rules imposed on the local branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the privacy watchdog in Finland in 2013. The denomination refused to comply, which ultimately brought the matter before the European Court of Justice (ECJ). It ruled last year that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to denominations also.

It is not yet clear whether GDPR also has consequences for the way Jehovah’s Witnesses retain data about former members. Within the church, records are kept of (former) members who have been tried internally for child abuse, for example. In principle, they are not shared with the police and the judicial authorities.

Victim groups are now concerned that GDPR will permit the destruction of these types of files, so that evidence against abusers will be lost.

‘Share the relevant files with the judicial authority’

The chairman of the victim group Reclaimed Voices calls on Jehovah’s Witnesses to share the relevant files with the judicial authorities as quickly as possible. “We would like the branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses to take their moral responsibility,” says Raymond Hintjes. “They can do this by cooperating with the Public Prosecution Service when it asks for relevant files.”

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