Data Mining the Welfare State: Profiling Citizens in the Netherlands
Time: 25th October, 14:00 doors open, 14:30-16:15 presentation and panel, 16:15 drinks
Location: Amsterdam, Zuidas, Symphonygebouw Auditorium, George Gershwinlaan 22-28
On the 25th of October the department of Transnational Legal Studies of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam organises a symposium on data mining and risk profiling citizens in the welfare state, as part of the Boundaries of Law-research programme. This symposium involves a panel discussion with a group of stakeholders and academics in one of the first lawsuits regarding risk profiling by the state. Public authorities increasingly join forces and share the personal data they have at their disposal in order to profile unsuspected and unsuspecting citizens. In 2014 a law was passed by the Dutch legislator allowing authorities in the Netherlands to engage in profiling practices using the System Risk Indication (SyRI). The logic of investigation is shifting from reactive to proactive. The deployment of far-reaching investigative measures no longer requires the suspicion of an individual citizens. This boundary for the state dissolves in this new modus operandi. A group of NGOs and Dutch citizens is challenging this system in court. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, submitted an amicus curiae to the District Court of the Hague. In this symposium representatives of the NGOs challenging SyRI, a UN representative and academics will shortly present their thoughts on these risk profiling practices in the Netherlands, before the floor will be open to questions from the public. Philip Alston will elaborate on the amicus curiae in a message to the public.
Information forms the basis of knowledge and knowledge is power. Developments in information technology have made it increasingly easier for organisations to process information about people and turn this into knowledge. Concerns about the introduction of the computer in public administration date back to the seventies, culminating in the adoption of legal instruments in the US and Europe intended to protect citizens against the increase in informational power of the state. Even though almost half a century has passed since, the concerns have not faded, in fact they matured. These laws shared the aim to prevent the state from abusing the power that came with computers by restricting the re-use of data for new purposes and providing transparency for citizens. One of the central concerns was the ability of the state to use computers to reorganise the fragments of information it held about citizens into a single dossier.
More than forty years later the processing of personal information has become commonplace. Information technology took flight and personal data is increasingly generated, used and shared with other parties for new purposes. In popular media data is coined the ‘new gold’. One of the ways to mine for this gold is to analyze big data sets in order to find patterns which may reveal some sort of new information. This practice is commonly referred to as ‘data mining’. These patterns can be used to create risk profiles which in turn can be applied to new data sets, enabling the processor to flag people. Data mining and profiling go hand in hand. The belief that data is the new gold has also found its way into the practices of public authorities. Although controversial at first, legislative changes in the EU landscape have taken place which were motivated by the ambitions of governments to bring databases together from different domains in order to establish risk profiles and flag individuals believed to be at risk for transgressing the rules. The logic of investigation has thus shifted from reactive to proactive. This shift is controversial, because it reflects the type of practices data protection law originally has sought to counter.
One system which reflects this new practice was adopted in a law in 2014 in the Netherlands which codified the use of the System Risk Indication (SyRI). Before the adoption of this law public data could only be lawfully exchanged on a case-by-case bases. SyRI allows the exchange of data between public authorities on a structural basis. The exchange of data is no longer motivated by considerations on the level of the individual, but on the level of a collective category, such as a neighbourhood. A structural exchange of data implies a mass interference with human rights, as citizens are exposed to intensive scrutiny by algorithms designed to discover whether their behaviour amounts to a risk which is of concern to these public authorities. Moreover, the risk registrations which follow from this system are in fact inter-institutional dossiers of people, meaning the amassing of data of citizens held across many domains. The mayor of Rotterdam, Aboutaleb, refused to cooperate further with the party responsible for SyRI, because he was asked to add police and medical data to these dossiers. Extensive media coverage reveals that the public opinion about SyRI is (still) that these types of practices are deemed controversial. This is the reason that a group of NGO’s have challenged SyRI in court; the first session of the Court will take place on the 29th of October 2019.
On the 25th of October 2019 the VU will organise a symposium in which these new phenomena, datamining the welfare state and profiling of citizens, will be discussed by a panel of NGO’s and academics. Amongst the speakers will be:
Christiaan van Veen: Special Advisor on new technologies and human rights to the UN
Maureen van der Pligt: Trade Union Official FNV, Social Security division
Valery Gantchev: Researcher IT, privacy and social security University of Groningen
Tijmen Wisman: Assistant professor privacy law at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Chairman of the Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights.
Christiaan van Veen is the Director of the Digital Welfare States and Human Rights Project at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law. He also serves as Special Advisor on new technologies and human rights to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Van Veen's research currently focuses on the impact of digitalization in welfare states on human rights.
Maureen van der Pligt was a member of the city council of Amsterdam and a policy officer for a Member of Parliament before she became an organizer, teamleader and Trade Union Official FNV, Social Security division.
Valery Gantchev is a researcher at the University of Groningen. His fields of expertise are IT, law, privacy and social security. The central theme of Valery's research is the repressive welfare state. As a distinguishing feature, repressive states tend to adopt measures in social security which effectively restrict the individual rights and freedoms of welfare beneficiaries. In his publications, Valery criticises the grave privacy implications of the mass profiling techniques employed by SyRI.
Tijmen Wisman is an assistant professor specialised in privacy law and the chairman of the Platform for the Protection of Civil Rights. His research involves risk profiling, data mining and internet of things policy of the EU.