Serious Data Protection Violations: Denmark Terminates Giant EasyTranslate Contract

After a tumultuous eight-month run, the Danish National Police has cancelled its USD 80m (DKK 520m) contract with language service provider (LSP) EasyTranslate, citing “serious breaches of data protection rules.”

In a press statement released December 11, 2019, the Danish Police said, “The contract is terminated with immediate effect.” A source told Slator a letter of cancellation was sent to Easy Translate on the evening of December 11. We contacted EasyTranslate Co-founder Frederik Pedersen for comment but received no reply at press time.

The four-year contract combined all language requirements from Denmark’s Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Immigration and Integration, and the Danish National Police led the tender process. It was the first time language services for the two ministries were privatized. Official contract start date was April 1, 2019.

Things were a little different back in April. Nine days into the contract, National Police Director Thomas Østrup Møller urged calm and said a lot of interpretation jobs were being carried out successfully in the face of complaints over interpreters not showing up for court dates or not speaking the required language. By August, hundreds of court interpreters reportedly declined to onboard EasyTranslate and there were talks of a boycott.

Where It Went Wrong

Among the serious data protection breaches, according to Police Director Thomas Østrup Møller, was EasyTranslate’s “use of data processors that we did not know of in the National Police.”

The press statement also cited other compounding factors: subpar contract delivery, wrong interpreter classification, poor handling of complaints, and the failure to establish a functional training program for interpreters.

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Police and court interpreter Susanne Frank told Slator, “There have been various concerns about EasyTranslate’s information handling and, in October, Danish media also covered a story about an interpreter who suggested selling information to reporters about an in-camera criminal case  (i.e., behind closed doors) concerning Iranian espionage.”

Reporting on the cancelation, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (dr.dk) said the Independent Police Liaison Office had already decided in October to no longer work with EasyTranslate. The LSP was reportedly fined for not delivering on the contract and the National Police had also started to closely monitor company.

This close supervision of the Danish LSP by the National Police has reportedly cost the state several million DKK, and authorities expect resulting legal fees to be even larger, according to another story from the local press.

Frank told Slator, “The data breach issue seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Apparently, EasyTranslate neglected to protect sensitive information, and content such as indictments and arrest warrants have been available to uncleared staff. It is, obviously, potentially harmful to an ongoing investigation if information about suspects and upcoming investigative measures are not kept secret.”

What’s Next

According to the same press statement from the Danish Police, “In light of the termination of the agreement, the National Police will establish a temporary list of interpreters from which police districts, courts, and other authorities can select suitable interpreters. Alongside this, the National Police will also provide indicative prices for interpretation to these authorities.”

“The National Police is aware that this new situation will, during the transition period, present challenges for both interpreters and individual authorities,” Police Director Thomas Østrup Møller said.

It seems that authorities will now be more careful about awarding the country’s entire justice system interpreting volume to a single vendor. The Police Director told PolicyWatch.dk as much, adding that their primary goal now is to raise the quality of interpretation in Denmark.

(Update: A legal opinion commissioned by EasyTranslate dated May 2020 and seen by Slator states that there was no data breach and the issue with the Danish National Police has been resolved.)