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Coalition launches lawsuit against State over risk profiling

A group of civil society organisations, led by the Civil Rights Protection Platform, is starting proceedings on the merits against the Dutch state over the risk profiling system SyRI. The lawsuit aims to stop the risk profiling of unsuspicious citizens in the Netherlands.

In addition to the legal coalition comprising the Dutch Legal Committee for Human Rights (NJCM), Privacy First Foundation, KDVP Foundation and Civil Rights Protection Platform Foundation, author Tommy Wieringa has joined the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff. He and publicist and philosopher Maxim Februari will act as ambassadors of the campaign that will surround the lawsuit. The proceedings are being handled by Deikwijs Lawyers and have been set up by the NJCM's Public Interest Litigation Project (PILP).

Functioning of SyRI

In SyRI, the System Risk Indication of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW), personal data of Dutch citizens are aggregated and analysed on a large scale. Using secret algorithms, citizens are then subjected to a risk analysis. If, according to SyRI, there is an increased risk of violation of one of the many laws covered by the system, they are included in the Risk Notification Register, which is accessible to many government agencies.

Any citizen can be covertly subjected to profiling in SyRI. He or she does not know what data has been used, what analyses have been applied and what makes him or her a 'risk' or not. However, SyRI can have far-reaching consequences. Government agencies can take action in response to a risk report, imposing fines, withdrawing benefits or initiating criminal proceedings. It is impossible for citizens to find out how a risk notification came about and refute an incorrect notification. In practice, this amounts to a reversal of the burden of proof.

Threat to the rule of law

The application of SyRI violates fundamental rights, including the right to a fair trial. The public interest in fighting fraud cannot justify it. Sensitive data is used by the government for purposes other than those for which it was collected, without any independent oversight. There are insufficient safeguards to prevent the risk profiles SyRI creates about citizens from being used in other domains. This 'black box' poses major risks to the democratic rule of law. It expands the government's information power in an opaque way and undermines the relationship of trust between the government and citizens. Citizens are suspected a priori and virtually any information they share with the government can be used against them without suspicion or concrete cause.

Fundamental objections ignored

Despite fundamental objections from the Council of State and the Personal Data Authority about the legality of the system, the legislation for SyRI was passed as a hammer piece by the Senate and the House of Representatives. Since its introduction in late 2014, the system has profiled thousands of Dutch citizens in two SyRI projects - not counting the 21 projects that took place before the legal introduction of the system.

In violation of ECHR

The coalition believes SyRI violates the right to privacy enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). That right is being trampled on by the Dutch state. It is not used as a test for the government's actions, but rather abused to stretch powers. The EU member states have built into the new European Privacy Regulation (General Data Protection Regulation, AVG) all kinds of exceptions to enable systems such as SyRI. By invoking fundamental human rights, the coalition hopes to stop such practices.

Public launch

On Friday evening 19 January next, lawyers Anton Ekker and Douwe Linders will explain the proceedings to press and public at theatre De Nieuwe Liefde in Amsterdam. At the same time, this evening will launch the public campaign Suspicious in advance launched. Speaking at the event will be Tommy Wieringa and Maxim Februari, as well as Professor Vincent Icke of Leiden University and Dr Aline Klingenberg of the University of Groningen.

The campaign aims to launch a public discussion on the use of risk profiling by the government and the impact it has on individual rights and freedoms and the functioning of the democratic rule of law. The campaign website will feature information and updates on the court case. In addition, the campaign will use Wob requests, legal and journalistic research and interviews with experts to provide public education on risk profiling practices in the Netherlands.

More information about the kick-off meeting can be found at the website of The New Love.

Follow the twitter account of In Advance Suspect for updates on the campaign and the lawsuit.

The subpoena will be published on the website of Deikwijs Lawyers and on the website of PILP.

Source:, 12 January 2018.

Update 19 January 2018: Read all about the campaign and the lawsuit against SyRI at Here you can also read how to check whether you yourself are included in SyRI's Risk Notifications Register.