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Tags Current Affairs

Digital identification stopped by Netherlands’ court

Date: 15 February 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

A court in the Netherlands recently stopped a digital identification scheme for reasons of exclusion. This has a context for similar artificial intelligence systems worldwide.

 

Background

The Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs developed SyRI in 2014 to weed out those who are most likely to commit fraud and receive government benefits.

 

Details

  • A Dutch district court ruled against an identification mechanism called SyRI (System Risk Indicator), because of data privacy and human rights concerns.

  • While the Hague district court found using new technology to control fraud was acceptable, it held SyRI was too invasive and violative of the privacy guarantees given by European Human Rights Law as well as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

  • Legislation passed by Dutch Parliament allowed government agencies to share 17 categories of data about welfare recipients such as taxes, land registries, employment records, and vehicle registrations with a private company.

  • The selective rollout was conducted in low-income and immigrant neighborhoods, which have a higher number of beneficiaries.

  • Elevated risk scores were sent to relevant government arms, which stores these on government databases for a maximum of two years. The government, in that time period, could open an investigation on the targeted person.

  • The Dutch government defended the programme in court, saying it prevented abuse and acted as only a starting point for further investigation instead of a final determination.

  • The government also refused to disclose all information about how the system makes its decisions, stating that it would allow gaming of the system.

What does the ruling indicate?

  • Similar to the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar judgment setting limits on the ID’s usage, the Hague Court attempted to balance social interest with personal privacy.

  • The ruling is also an example of how a data protection regulation can be used against government surveillance.

  • This decision sets a strong legal precedent for other courts to follow. This is one of the first times a court anywhere has stopped the use of digital technologies and abundant digital information by welfare authorities on human rights grounds.

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