Through innovation, the Dutch government wishes to take the lead in the use of new digital technology. At the same time, we in government want to protect all citizens and entrepreneurs and their rights if they are threatened by new developments.
Businesses, institutions and governments are investing in the use and implementation of new opportunities offered by technology. At the same time, ever-growing volumes of data are available. Everything we type on the Internet and all communication between devices connected to the Internet generates new data. These immense volumes of ‘big data’ make it possible for computers to use algorithms to filter and utilise information ever faster. The new opportunities offered by technology and data call for increased attention to rights and values.
Consider artificial intelligence, for example: in the future will humans be in charge of what a computer decides? Will we make decisions about our own behaviour ourselves or will our decisions be unconsciously guided? How should we deal with the effects of digitalisation on the relationship between government and individual citizens, and on democracy? In essence, the real question is: what sort of society do we want to live in? What consequences will these developments have for the organisation of government?
Government also uses algorithms and (big) data in making its decisions, in providing its services, and in supervision and enforcement. If computer programs play a role in deciding whether an individual is eligible for a permit, where is the human element? How do we know whether a decision is the right one? Decisions made using algorithms must still satisfy the requirements of the General Administrative Law Act (Algemene wet bestuursrecht). We are investigating how to ensure adequate supervision of the integrity of data in algorithms. This is an intrinsic element of good public administration and of reinforcing the confidence of citizens and entrepreneurs in government.
Achieving our ambitions can involve a whole range of values. This can lead to dilemmas. On the one hand, we want people to feel secure and to be served personally as much as possible. On the other hand, everyone has a right to privacy. Technology can provide solutions – e.g., with blockchain. And naturally there’s always legislation to safeguard values.
Debate, research and methods
- Within Europe, the Netherlands is actively contributing to discussions concerning rights and digitalisation. A key theme within the Council of Europe is the right of citizens to autonomy.
- Based on actual questions, and using smart computers and data, we will help solve issues arising in society. For example: how can we increase the probability of catching criminals?
- In discussion with citizens, entrepreneurs, government and civil society organizations, we will discuss the effects of new technologies on rights and values.
- We have issued orders for a series of studies: to the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) for a study of the impact of artificial intelligence on public values, to the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations for an investigation of the impact of digitalisation on local democracy and to the Council for Public Administration (ROB) for a study of the effects of digitalisation on democracy. These studies will help us determine the issues that we in government need to tackle.
- The Government Parliamentary System Committee is considering the effects of digitalisation on the parliamentary system.
- We have called upon the Rathenau Institute to monitor the latest developments, to conduct research and to conduct political discussions on ethical issues.
- In developing legislation, policy and measures, we intend to include ethical aspects directly. This is known as ethics by design.
Data and algorithms
- The government is a role model when it comes to the use of data. We are creating a National Data Agenda that describes what we in government as a whole plan to do to ensure (even) better management of personal data, open data and big data. We plan to examine how the analysis and combination of government data can be used to promote policy-making and to solve societal challenges. We plan to make better use of the opportunities offered by big data while at the same time considering rights and values.
- We are examining the integrity and explainability of the decisions taken using algorithms. As part of that process, we are investigating the use of algorithms and the desirability of making them public. We are also investigating how the integrity of algorithms can be supervised adequately.
- After the summer, the Cabinet will issue a response to a study by the University of Utrecht of the relationship between algorithms and fundamental rights.
- In addition, the Centre for Scientific Research and Documentation (Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek en Documentatiecentrum) is examining the legal aspects of algorithms that make independent decisions.
- The Minister for Legal Protection will be sending a letter to the Lower House in the autumn of 2018 on the transparency of algorithms.
- We are currently drawing up rules and agreements on the use of information and data. Together with the Smart Cities (cities already making use of new technologies), we are working together to draw up rules of play (code of good digital administration).
- In the digital world, developments can take place so quickly and be so fundamental that existing rules are no longer satisfactory, or become unnecessary in some other way. In that situation, new and adjusted rules are needed in order to guarantee public interests and values. We do not want legislation or regulations to impose unnecessary restrictions on innovation. Against that background, it is essential to take these aspects into account when drawing up standards. This is possible in a number of different ways (for example, through target requirements, the right to challenge, rules that operate independently of technology, framework legislation, and experimental legislation). At the same time, we must do justice to such values as the protection of legal interests and democratic decision-making.
- It takes time to make and to change rules. With that in mind, the Cabinet will regularly have strategic surveys carried out so as to identify the legal, technological and ethical consequences of new developments at an early stage. These surveys will be undertaken together with the private sector, institutions, academic parties and other stakeholders. We will share the outcomes of these surveys with everyone.
- One example is the survey of ‘Blockchain and the law’ (report in Parliamentary Papers II 2016–2017, 33 009, no. 42, page 3) that is expected to be concluded in November 2018. This study focuses on: a government-managed register of ownership, automated compliance by citizens with government rules, the use of smart contracts by private parties, the international transport of waste, and the recording and sharing of privacy-sensitive data by government.