Privacy groups, the FNV trade union federation and several private individuals are in court in The Hague on Tuesday morning, arguing that the government’s algorithm-based fraud detection system should be scrapped.
SyRI, devised by social affairs ministry officials, has been used by four local authorities to draw up lists of people suspected of some form of housing or social security fraud.
The system uses an algorithm which links government organisations and draws up risk profiles based on the profiles of people already caught committing social security fraud. It then combs the records to find people with a similar risk profile who are then considered to be potential fraudsters and listed for further investigation.
‘SyRI is making ordinary people suspects without reason,’ said Ronald Huissen of the citizens rights group Platform Bescherming Burgerrechten. ‘It is a threat to the rule of law.’
Last week UN human rights and poverty rapporteur Philip Alston criticised automated system, saying in a letter to a court that it appears to discriminate against people with little money and people with a minority background.
‘SyRI appears to be directly targeted at poorer groups… and the type of risk-based surveillance already affects a much broader group of individuals and is likely to affect everyone’s rights in the near future,’ Alston said.
The Dutch privacy watchdog said in May the government must be more transparent about the way algorithms are being used to take decisions affecting its citizens. ‘The government must be transparent about it, and make clear in what way your details are being processed and how these decisions are being made,’ the organisation said.
This summer, Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb pulled the plug on an experiment with SyRI in one neighbourhood because ‘it went too far’.
And the Volkskrant reported earlier that it is unclear if the system has detected any actual cases of fraud in the four other areas where it has been used.