How far is the government allowed to interfere in the privacy of its citizens? In the Data Agenda Government, we take into account the legal and ethical frameworks, and we are working together on new, general principles.
In the public sector, we are looking for a responsible way of dealing with data. We are focusing intently on algorithms: step-by-step instructions that computers need to perform tasks. On the one hand, we realise the enormous potential that algorithms and artificial intelligence can offer in solving social problems. On the other hand, we wonder how we are allowed to use algorithms and to what extent we should be transparent about it.
Transparency about algorithms
Algorithms can lead to a conscious or unconscious bias or a distorted picture of reality. In machine learning and deep learning, systems no longer carry out the instructions they are given, but they will start making data-driven conclusions and taking follow-up steps. This means that subsequently, it will not always be possible to determine where a result has come from and what a particular decision has been based on.
This could place a strain on individual rights. This is why we need to be transparent about algorithms.
In the pursuit of transparency, we must also pay attention to open-source software. This is software that can be accessed, modified and used by everyone. This means that anyone can make improvements to this software and share it free of rights. The government also uses software that may be suitable for this purpose.
Practical questions about the GDPR
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) protects the rights of citizens and imposes restrictions on the use of personal data. For many (government) organisations this still leads to practical questions about the possibilities and restrictions regarding the use of data and the need to exchange knowledge and experiences.
Sharing insights about legal possibilities
Investigations are still ongoing into the extent to which new legislation or an amendment to existing legislation concerning privacy is required. The Ministry of Justice and Security has prepared a bill aimed at making data processing easier for collaborating parties. If it becomes easier for different parties to process data together, this could lead to a more efficient approach to fighting subversive crime. The bill also contains several safeguards for the protection of privacy.
The Ministry of Justice and Security seeks to proceed with the bill within the foreseeable future, as soon as it has processed the advice that it has received.
Every situation is different
Ethical dilemmas in datafication cannot be resolved simply by defining exactly how executive government bodies need to act. It is impossible to draw up rules for every situation. The integrity policy teaches us that it is better to formulate joint general principles: agreements on how we, as the government, will deal with data responsibly. These principles can be practised via training courses using practical examples.
Research into algorithms and open-source software
- The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, together with the Ministry of Justice and Security, Statistics Netherlands (CBS), the Department for Public Works and Water Management and the Association of Netherlands Municipalities will map out what considerations are involved in deciding whether to publish algorithms. (2019)
- The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, together with the Ministry of Justice and Security, are investigating the use of algorithms; together we are developing policies and guidelines concerning transparency about (open) algorithms. (2019)
- The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations is starting an intergovernmental collaboration on a ‘transparency lab’: a place where applications are developed and tested, aimed at increasing governmental transparency about data, source codes and algorithms. Via this transparency lab, government organisations can exchange knowledge and experiences. (2019)
General principles for the responsible use of data
- The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations is taking the initiative to formulate government-wide principles for the responsible handling of data. We are using existing initiatives both in the Netherlands and abroad. (2019)
- From its Intergovernmental Programme (IBP), the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations will draw up a Code of Good Digital Administration for the benefit of intergovernmental collaboration. This Code will also describe what principles the government will apply with respect to the responsible use of data. (2019)
Conferences to share experiences and to make agreements
- This spring, the Ministry of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations is organising a national data conference about data and artificial intelligence (AI). This will be followed, possibly in September, by a second international data conference to agree on the government’s international data regulations. (2019)
- The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations is going to support the National Data Week Den Bosch from 28 October to 2 November: a new annual conference about the applicability of data. The aim is for this conference to become the national, leading event about the opportunities presented by data. (2019)