Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Dutch Ruling Curbs Use of Algorithms to Violate Human Rights

U.S. anti-poverty and privacy advocates, take note!  Last week, a Dutch court ordered the government to halt an automated surveillance system because, said the court, it violated the human rights of welfare recipients.  In particular, by collating swaths of data on entire neighborhoods in an effort to identify profiles of potential defrauders, the court said that the algorithm used by the Dutch government, SyRI, contravened the right to a private life guaranteed under European Human Rights Law. 

The human rights dangers posed by the growing digitization of welfare is an issue that UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, explored in-depth in his October 2019 report to the UN General Assembly.  The Special Rapporteur also participated as an amicus in the Dutch case -- his brief is available here.  

Tom Simonite of Wired magazine notes that "While European courts and regulators begin to impose limits on government use of AI and algorithms on citizens, US residents have few protections.  'There’s no federal data protection law equivalent to the GDPR,” says Amos Toh, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in New York.' Where such laws exist, he says, they often exempt government actions."


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