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Monthly update on human rights & tech: March 2024

The Dutch government continues to struggle with algorithms, a DSA awareness campaign and more: a quick read through the most interesting developments at the intersection of human rights and technology from the Netherlands.

Stay Loud

Together with a coalition of civil society organisations, activists and thought leaders, we launched https://yourplatformrights.eu, a website summarizing the most important new rights and responsibilities awarded by the Digital Services Act. The website explains how people can best make use of the DSA to increase their freedom and safety while partaking in online civil discourse. We call the campaign Stay Loud, because democracy needs the active participation of civil society actors and citizens.

The campaign was the result of action research amongst civil society organizations looking into how Big Tech helps and hinders them.

Parliamentary committee of inquiry concludes nothing has fundamentally changed since the child benefits scandal

Parliament set up a committee of inquiry to investigate why the child benefits scandal happened. The committee's report was recently published and describes a system designed based on the perception that fraud was a much bigger problem than it really was. Newspapers paid "disproportionate" attention to what went wrong in the social security system, especially when people with a migration background were involved. Parliament agreed to poor quality laws and then failed to improve them, executive agencies acted unlawfully and the judiciary fell short, the committee concluded. Basic human rights were violated and the rule of law was cast aside. The commission recommends better resourcing public bodies that serve to protect citizens. Among other things, the committee advises government to increase the DPA's budget to 100 million. The most dire conclusion from the report? The commission writes that it has seen no substantial changes in government and that a second benefits scandal could happen at any moment.

Minister of Education apologizes for algorithmic discrimination

Last year journalists revealed what seemed to be racial bias in one of the anti-fraud procedures of the Dutch organisation that administers student grants (DUO). The use of the algorithmic system in question was suspended pending further investigation. A few weeks ago the outgoing Minister of Education made known that the way in which grants for students living away from home were monitored, indeed had "unwittingly and unintentionally" led to discrimination. Students with a migration background and students attending trade schools were more likely to be placed under investigation. The minister apologized and has confirmed that, for now, students will be selected based on random sampling only.

The minister's colleagues should take note. After the revenue service disabled a number of risk models because of privacy concerns, it has silently reinstated several of them, even though one is yet to receive a data protection impact assessment. The outgoing Minister of Finance says the revenue service "accepts the risks".

And finally...

The Cyber Law, an addition to the Intelligence and Security Services Act, was passed by Senate, Google launched a report concluding that the Dutch government isn't investing enough in (Google's) AI (products), and the new, and fourth-largest political party New Sociaal Contract has proposed government develop its own chat app, to decrease its reliance on WhatsApp and Signal. Sounds interesting!

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