State sued over risk profiling of citizens
A group of civil society organisations is today suing the Dutch state over the System Risk Indication, SyRI for short. According to the plaintiffs, the risk profiling system is a "black box" that poses a risk to the democratic rule of law and its application must be stopped.
The coalition of plaintiffs consists of the Dutch Legal Committee for Human Rights (NJCM), the Privacy First Foundation, the KDVP Foundation, the Civil Rights Protection Platform Foundation and the National Council of Clients (LCR). Authors Tommy Wieringa and Maxim Februari joined as plaintiffs in their personal capacity. As ambassadors of the lawsuit, they already spoke out strongly against SyRI several times.
The proceedings are being handled by Deikwijs Lawyers and have been set up by the NJCM's Public Interest Litigation Project (PILP).
Dragnet operations with secret algorithms on unsuspected citizens
SyRI widely links personal data of unsuspected citizens from government and corporate databases. A secret algorithm then predicts whether they pose a risk of breaking any of the many laws covered by the system. If SyRI's analysis leads to a risk notification, a citizen is included in the so-called Risk Notification Register, which is accessible to a large number of government agencies.
SyRI is a 'black box' that contains major risks to the democratic rule of law. It is completely unclear to a citizen who may be vetted by SyRI without any reason, what data is used for this purpose, what analyses are carried out with it and what makes him or her a risk or not. Moreover, because of SyRI's covert operation, citizens are also unable to refute an incorrect risk report.
According to the coalition, SyRI violates several fundamental rights and the system undermines the trust relationship between the government and its citizens. Citizens are a priori suspect and virtually any information they share with the government can be used against them covertly without suspicion or concrete cause.
Ministry refuses transparency on modus operandi
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 House of Representatives and the Senate in late 2014. However, SyRI has been deployed since 2008. Since then, dozens of investigations have been conducted where entire neighbourhoods in several Dutch cities have been vetted by SyRI. Since its legal adoption, the system has been deployed in Eindhoven and Capelle aan den IJssel. It was recently announced that SyRI will be applied in the Rotterdam Bloemhof and Hillesluis and Haarlem Schalkwijk neighbourhoods.
A Wob request yielded hardly any information on the dozens of SyRI investigations carried out both before and after the legal capture in 2014. By disclosing the data and risk models used, calculating citizens would know what to look out for when committing fraud, according to the Social Affairs Ministry's reason for not disclosing. According to the plaintiffs, this violates the duty of information and the right to due process, among others.
Around the trial, the information campaign 'By Presumption Suspect' was launched. On the campaign website www.bijvoorbaatverdacht.nl updates on the lawsuit will be posted and a public summary of the summons will appear. The full summons can be accessed on the website of Deikwijs Lawyers www.deikwijs.nl (pdf).
Update 16 October 2018: The court in The Hague, the FNV authorised as a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Update 23 April 2019: the court hearing will take place on 29 October 2019 at the District Court of The Hague. Everyone is welcome to attend!