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Monthly update on human rights & tech: December 2023

Election results, re-thinking security and political advertising: a quick read through the most interesting developments at the intersection of human rights and technology from the Netherlands.

General elections

The Dutch general elections, held on November 22nd, resulted in a (far-)right majority. From proposals to abolish the Senate, leave the EU, defund the public broadcaster and limit the possibilities for collective action procedures, to discrimination against people based on their origin, religion or gender orientation: the results pose an enormous threat to the rule of law. And thus to all who wish to live in freedom. They show that justice, equality and human rights should never be taken for granted. Indeed, in the next couple of years we'll need to drastically increase our efforts to fight for them.

More than ever before, people will need to be protected from the government. With the help of our international and national partners, we're mapping the expected threats to people's rights, to the rule of law and democratic control, and to the free press and NGO's -- and choosing a course of action.

Security for all

Security is a hot topic in society and politics. After all, everyone wants to be safe. And we sacrifice a lot for it: the promise of greater safety often underlies sweeping legislation and intruding government action. But: security is not a singular concept. One specific measure can increase some people's sense of safety, while at the same time making others more unsafe. Who or what do we spend most time protecting, and at what cost?

In order to better understand security measures and challenge our dominant understanding of what safety is, it is important to show how multiform the different needs for security are. For a new project, we therefore interviewed people about what safety means to them. Among others, we spoke with Andy Palmer of Greenpeace, with Dionne Abdoelhafiezkan of Control Alt Delete and with Franciska Manuputty, a survivor of the child benefits scandal.

Tracking and profiling during the Dutch general elections

With the election campaigns running at full speed, we saw a lot of probing into political parties' ad-spend and profiling on social media, their use of tracking cookies and more. One research project that absolutely stood out is the Campaign Monitor run by University of Amsterdam-researcher Fabio Volta in collaboration with De Groene Amsterdammer and Who Targets Me. Together, the researchers served up one juicy revelation after another. Political parties seemed to have no qualms about profiling based on (inferred) ethnicity and faith. And some political parties were charged a lot more for their ad placement than others. After the dust of the elections settled, another interesting conclusion was reached: PVV, the party that won the elections with a quarter of all votes, spent next to nothing on social media. Kudos for this excellent work!

And finally...

A final throw, by European tech companies and NGO's, to influence the outcome of the AI Act, and the Amsterdam District Court handed down judgment in the case against TikTok/ByteDance, showing there's a long road ahead before we reach a uniform understanding on how best to use the Collective Settlement of Mass Damages Act to address privacy violations.

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