The government must be fully aware of the consequences of digitalisation for society. This includes both opportunities and risks for public values and futureproof legislation. Over the past year we have initiated dialogue on these issues in a number of different ways, specifically focusing attention on the vital role of data.
Social dialogue and public values
Digitalisation directly affects the relationship between citizens and government. We as government wish to make optimum use of the possibilities offered by digitalisation, and we want to reveal to the public the opportunities that digitalisation brings. For example, there are opportunities in making services more personal and in supporting democracy. At the same time, individual citizens must trust that government uses data safely and securely. Against that background, over the past year, we have initiated dialogue with society about the effects of new technologies on rights and values, by talking to representatives from the world of science, entrepreneurs and individual citizens. To generate greater awareness among young people about the consequences of digitalisation, we also developed a teaching programme for primary education: Donald Duck dives into the digital world.
There is a broad recognition of the importance of understanding the integrity and interpretability of algorithms. In this framework, on behalf of the Cabinet, the Secretary of State at EZK submitted a request to the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) to investigate the impact of artificial intelligence on public values. The Minister for Legal Protection wrote a letter to the Dutch Senate about the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence in the dispensation of justice. The Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations also sent a response to the House of Representatives to the study by the University of Utrecht into Algorithms and Fundamental Rights.
Digitalisation and democracy
Democracy is an essential value that can be heavily influenced by digitalisation. To gain an insight into the impact of digitalisation on local democracy, we launched a knowledge network. In addition, the Council for Public Administration (Raad voor Openbaar Bestuur) published its recommendation ‘The Quest for Truth’ (Zoeken naar waarheid) in May 2019, about truth tracking in our democracy in the digital era. The recommendation lists threats and opportunities from the expansion of digitalisation for a smoothly functioning, modern democracy. The Government Committee on the Parliamentary System also included digitalisation as a key development in its activities.
Rapid technological developments demand long-term safeguarding of public values in the form of legislation. This requires a forward looking approach, and continued research. In 2019, the Cabinet issued a response to the unsolicited recommendation on digitalisation, by the Council of State. These included a discussion of the implementation of laws supported by ICT and legislation independent of technology.
Clear advances have been made in the field of legislation. In July 2018, the Temporary Decree on Digital Access (based on European Standard 301 549) came into effect. The Digital Government Bill is currently being discussed in parliament. The Digital Government Act (Wdo) is a vital piece of legislation for identification and authentication, and will help simplify government services. We are currently preparing for what will be dealt with in the next stage of this Act. The Council of State also issued recommendations on the Bill for the modernisation of electronic governmental traffic. Discussion is also currently underway of the Bill on electronic publications and the initiative Bill on open government.
The Data Agenda, NL DIGITAAL, which was completed in April, describes how data can be used even more effectively in policy making, and the efforts of government to solve problems facing society. The agenda also focuses specifically on protecting public values and fundamental rights.
Government, the private sector, individual citizens and knowledge institutions are working together in Smart Cities on integrated and data-driven solutions aimed at improving the quality of life, overall quality and the competitive capacity of cities. What works in one city can then be shared via the overarching Smart Society collaborative venture. Based on experiences acquired by individual municipalities in using new technologies in the public space, principles have for example been drawn up for a digital city. Between the various levels of government we are also working on further rules for sound digital public administration. These will be integrated in the Code of good public administration.
Use of water in periods of drought – Objective from the point of view of entrepreneurs
We live in an era in which information needs to be quickly available. This also applies to the agricultural sector.
Farmers for example need to know when they can water their fields or when weirs have been opened or closed, granting them access to the land. It is essential for farmers to have an immediate answer to questions of this kind. To make that possible, we need to be able to shift from global information to immediately available, up-to-date, tailor-made information, in this case at plot level.
Product: an app
The new ‘Plot guide’ (Perceelwijzer) app keeps farmers up to date at plot level. The user of the app specifies which information he or she wishes to receive and precisely how. For example, via a push notice, the user can receive an automatic notification when a certain plot has been mowed. By bringing together a number of different data flows, the Perceelwijzer gives farmers an immediate answer to for example the following questions:
- Am I permitted to water my land?
- When is mowing work planned on my land?
- Has the adjacent weir been lowered?
- What is the current groundwater level?
- What is the quality of the water in this waterway?
If an individual farmer requires additional information or wishes to submit his own notice, that too can easily be done via the app, to which location data and photographs can easily be added.
The app was initially developed for the Noord-Brabant region and will go online starting on 1 October.
Various parties provide data for the Perceelwijzer: the Province of Noord-Brabant, the water authorities Aa en Maas, De Dommel and De Brabantse Delta, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and in the future the individual farmers themselves.
The future: more information and more use of ease
Eventually, the Perceelwijzer app will be available for the whole of the Netherlands.
Additional data sources will also be added, including planning timetables for dredging work, crop use, projects due to be started in the vicinity, and information from satellites. It will also be possible to send notifications aimed specifically at farmers in a particular area. Wageningen agricultural university will be able to contribute knowledge about the amount of water required by particular crops. This will enable farmers to be more efficient and precise, in watering their land. Instead of switching on their sprayers at a fixed time each evening, it will be possible to water on demand (during dry periods) and to focus on crop maintenance.
Result: improved, bespoke information provision and greater ease of use.
In the Noord-Brabant region, farmers will have access to the Perceelwijzer app from 1 October.
Actions 2019 – 2020
Attention for public values
- We are continuing to invest in the organisation of cross-society dialogue. This will for example take the form of the conference ‘Data and Ethics: the heart of AI’. Together with the Municipalities of The Hague and Den Bosch, among others, we will be opening the Historical Algorithm Museum. For students at secondary school, a booklet will be produced on dilemmas.
- A Toolbox for Responsible Innovation (an action previously entitled ethics by design) has been developed. This toolbox offers a range of instruments including an impact assessment, handouts, standards and guidelines to help government innovate more responsibly. This will be deployed iteratively in practice with various government parties.
- A letter will be published about possible legal safeguards in relation to profiling by the government and guidelines for the use of algorithms by government. These will be sent to the House of Representatives in 2019 by the Minister for Legal Protection, also on behalf of the Secretary of State at BZK.
- In the autumn of 2019, the Minister of BZK will be sending the policy letter AI, public values and human rights to the House of Representatives.
- The Research and Documentation Centre of the Ministry of Justice and Security (WODC) has commissioned a preliminary investigation into the legal aspects of decision making using algorithms. On the basis of five case studies we will be examining opportunities and risks in respect of the protection and realisation of public values. The case studies in question are: non-cognitive capacity of the judicial system, autonomous vehicles, peer-to-peer energy trade and content moderation by online platforms.
- In the autumn of 2019, the Code of Good Public Administration will be updated. This will include consideration of the consequences of digitalisation.
- An approach to upscaling on the basis of experiences accrued in the life lab that aims to increase public participation through digital participation tools.
- In 2019, we are organising a series of summer schools on ‘digital democracy’. Participants will work together on a manifesto due to be published in the autumn of 2019.
- In response to the recommendations from the Council of State on Digitalisation, the Ministry of Justice and Security will be issuing a manual on legislation and ICT (best practices) (2019/2020) aimed at encouraging interaction between legislation and implementation in consultation with various other departments and, if necessary, submitting proposals for the Instructions for Regulations and the Integrated Consideration Framework for Policy and Legislation (2019/2020).
- The Digital Government Bill is currently with the House of Representatives. The purpose of this law is to enable citizens and businesses to log in securely to (semi)government organisations that offer their products and services via electronic means. We are also working on proposals for additional subjects to be discussed during the second phase of the Act, and in further implementation rules based on the current Bill.
- The purpose of the amendment to the Passport Act is to allow people to log in to DigiD high using their ID document. This is expected to be implemented in 2020.
- The Bill for the modernisation of electronic governmental traffic aims to entitle individual citizens and businesses to do business with government, via digital means. Once the recommendations have been processed, the Bill will be submitted to the House of Representatives.
- The Bill on electronic publication is due to come into force on 1 January 2021. This Act will require administrative bodies to replace the publication of notices in door-to-door newspapers with digital publication and will enable citizens to receive notices affecting their local neighbourhood, in electronic form.
- The initiative Bill on open government is currently being debated in the Senate.
- An amendment to the Act on the Reuse of Government Information (to implement the EU Directive) gives citizens the right to reuse information already published by the government for other purposes. This is due to come into force in 2021.