The state benefits agency UWV has been illegally gathering information about unemployment benefit claimants to assess if they may be living abroad, according to research by broadcaster NOS and current affairs show Nieuwsuur.
Everyone was targeted by the system even if there were no indications that they were involved in fraud, NOS said. The project was halted at the beginning of this year following recommendations by government lawyers, who said it breached privacy legislation.
The UWV recorded the IP addresses of people who visited UWV.nl and Werk.nl to see if they were abroad at the time, given that IP addresses are linked to location. The agency also placed secret cookies to follow users and keep track of how long they were online.
This information was then fed into an algorithm that analysed if there was a risk the benefit claimant was abroad. Those with a high score were investigated more closely.
In total, 3,600 investigations were opened and in 460 cases, “benefits were amended”, NOS said.
The Dutch privacy watchdog AP said the UWV’s actions were “worrying” and has called for a full investigation. IP information has been collected since at least 2021, NOS said.
The UWV said in a reaction it was sorry that it had not acted with sufficient care. The system had been thoroughly tested and no-one’s benefits were stopped simply because they were flagged up via the algorithm, the UWV told NOS.
However, Kitty Jong, deputy chairwoman of the FNV trade union federation, said she was shocked by the way people were “considered guilty until proven innocent”.
“Once again all the guns are targeted on getting people who have just lost their job while the major fraudsters are the tax avoiders living in Blaricum and Wassenaar. Why not put them all under the spotlight.”
The AP said in January it had started monitoring the use of algorithms as part of a government programme to prevent discrimination and exclusion.
‘Algorithms are increasingly used to select people but if they are wrongly programmed they can be incredibly dangerous,’ AP director Aleid Wolfsen told NOS at the time.
The child benefit scandal which erupted in 2020 is a case in point, he said. Between 2004 and 2019, thousands of parents were unjustly labelled fraudsters.
Being a dual national was one of the indicators for being risk, and the data of dual nationals was processed in an unlawful and discriminatory way, the AP said at the time.
Another example is the government fraud detection programme SyRI which was found to break human rights following a court case.
Thank you for donating to DutchNews.nl.
We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.Make a donation