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SyRI coalition exhorts cabinet: stop hasty introduction of 'Super SyRI'

While the ink of the SyRI verdict yet to dry, the government is already submitting another bill for a bigger, more sweeping successor.

According to the Coalition Against the System Risk Indication (SyRI), nothing has been learned from the court case: "The ruling on SyRI was a line in the sand. The government is now going to bulldoze over that." In a letter to the cabinet, the civil society coalition that won a court case against SyRI in February calls on the government to divide and delay the introduction of a larger data surveillance law (WGS).

Expanded at the last minute

With the Data Processing by Collaborative Societies (WGS) Bill, the government is ignoring strong criticism from NGOs and negative opinions from the Council of State and the Personal Data Authority (AP). That in itself is serious. On top of that, at the last minute, after the Council of State and AP had already issued their opinions on the bill, the proposal was expanded to include four public-private SyRIs: partnerships that were not yet in the earlier version of the bill. This while the State Council correctly stated that each collaboration requires a separate law.

The ruling on SyRI was a line in the sand. The government is now going to bulldoze over that.

- The SyRI Coalition

In doing so, the cabinet is doing the opposite of what the Council of State advises and making the law so complex that a thorough parliamentary discussion of all parts becomes almost impossible. Moreover, by expanding the law so substantially after the Council of State and the AP already advised on it, these bodies have been sidelined in their statutory advisory role, the SyRI coalition argues in its letter.

Danger to the rule of law

The proposal was already highly controversial even without the four partnerships. Indeed, compared to SyRI, the WGS offers even broader possibilities to apply large-scale data surveillance on citizens in order to create shadow records for various purposes. In the SyRI legislation, this was limited to government databases; under the WGS, all data stored at public and private parties can be linked and analysed.
Tijmen Wisman, president of the Civil Rights Platform: "Truly all personal data stored here and there will become fair game for mass surveillance with this bill. From now on, this data can be used against citizens without suspicion or concrete cause in covert analyses with far-reaching consequences. In our view, this proposal therefore poses a danger to the functioning of the rule of law."

Nothing learned from SyRI and benefits affair

The coalition writes that the proposal misses the risks of covert data analysis on citizens. How disastrous the consequences can be is more topical than ever at the moment because of the benefits affair. "Thousands of innocent citizens were affected by this. The data analyses on the basis of which this happened were opaque, discriminatory and are secret from affected citizens to this day."

The parties in the SyRI coalition note that, as in 2014, the government is only cosmetically adopting the criticism of its advisory bodies when introducing SyRI. Both the Personal Data Authority and the Council of State stated in no uncertain terms that the WGS seriously undermines the legal protection of citizens. This fundamental criticism has not been addressed in the amended proposal sent to the House of Representatives.

Hasty treatment

For now, there seems to be a push from the cabinet parties for haste in introducing the proposal in the Chamber. Even before it reached the Chamber Registrar, the CDA already requested that it be debated as soon as possible on 15 May 2020; this request did not make it except for one vote. The first consideration of the bill is now scheduled today.

This state of affairs is unacceptable, Wisman explained: "Not only does the cabinet appear to be oblivious to the causes of the SyRI debacle, the public-private successor has to be rushed through parliament. The court ruling on SyRI was a line in the sand. They are now going to bulldoze over that."

At the very least, according to the coalition, the cabinet should submit the four partnerships that are part of the WGS as separate bills, the organisations said in their letter: "So that this time, the legislative procedure can indeed be gone through carefully, so that this time, the citizen is protected from new abuses."

Read here the letter (pdf) which the civil society coalition against SyRI sent to the cabinet this week.

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