State benefits agency reviews 460 cases for illegal info impact

Photo: UWV

The state run jobs agency UWV is reviewing 460 benefit fraud cases because they partly relied on an algorithm which had been illegally collating information.

Current affairs show Nieuwsuur revealed in July that the UWV had been illegally monitoring unemployment benefit claimants to assess if they may be living abroad.

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 and 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. 

The agency now says it will look again at 460 closed cases in which people were fined or lost benefits based on information which had been gathered illegally.

“We are doing this following talks with the [social affairs] ministry, advice from the AP and in the interests of equal treatment,” a UWV spokesman told NOS this week.

Privacy watchdog 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.

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