Cabinet to investigate societal impact of new technologies

Robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality and other new technologies can both strengthen and undermine key values such as privacy, non-discrimination, human dignity (such as when care tasks are carried out by robots), human rights and the right to due process, says the Rathenau Institute. At the same time, these technologies offer new social and commercial opportunities, potential gains in efficiency and quality, and educational benefits.

The government has therefore decided to commission more research into the societal effects of technological developments and to establish an inter-ministerial working group to study this issue. And the budget of the Data Protection Authority will be almost doubled. The cabinet made these decisions following proposals put forward jointly by Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Kajsa Ollongren and her ministry’s state secretary Raymond Knops, State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Mona Keijzer, Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus and Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker.

Central government is conducting data analysis trials, within strict legal frameworks, to gain more insight into child abuse, patterns of crime that undermines society, and the migration routes and motives of asylum seekers. New technologies affect almost all policy areas, so it is vital that the government join forces internally and with parties in the community to identify developments and learn quickly and responsibly from measures adopted in the field. This requires government to be flexible and innovative. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy is working with the private sector to capitalise on the opportunities provided by digitalisation and robotisation, for instance in manufacturing, thus generating more jobs and income. Active support of innovation will keep knowledge and earning capacity in the Netherlands. Government, knowledge institutions and companies are making joint agreements on the use of big data and on protecting consumers’ privacy in the commercial sector. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is to hold round table sessions about the personalisation of news, freedom of information and independent journalism. Finally, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations will focus on establishing a broad dialogue on public values and human rights, and on safeguarding these in an information society.

The government recognises the need for more research into the societal impact of new technologies, as identified by the Rathenau Institute. An inter-ministerial working group will be established to focus on issues relating to digitalisation. In anticipation of this, Ms Ollongren has requested a legal study into how the use of algorithms may affect human rights. On the basis of the results of this study, a group of experts will identify of possible solutions. Research will also be carried out into short-term opportunities and risks relating to ‘decision-making’ algorithms and how these algorithms align with existing legal frameworks. The government will also request an advisory opinion from the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) on the impact of artificial intelligence on public values. Finally, the government has asked the Council for Public Administration (ROB) to investigate the opportunities and threats presented by digitalisation for the functioning of modern democratic societies and to set out a framework for action for public administration.

The Rathenau Institute says that the protection of human rights needs to be prepared for the digital age. The government takes the view that human rights protection is enshrined in, for instance, the first chapter of the Constitution and in various human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition, there are various mechanisms for the protection of public values, such as consumer protection and the principles of good governance, which are laid down in legislation including the General Administrative Law Act and the Personal Data Protection Act. The latter law is due to be replaced on 25 May 2018 by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR sets standards for personal data processing in practically every sector of in society and for almost all types of processing, including the processing of personal data in relation to big data analytics, robotics and the internet of things.

Over the past few years, the government has taken various measures to strengthen monitoring of the protection of public values and human rights. For instance, the Data Protection Authority’s mandate and capacity have been expanded substantially. Its powers to impose fines have been enhanced and an obligation to report data breaches that may adversely affect citizens and consumers is now in place. To further strengthen the Authority’s supervisory capacity, the government intends to increase its budget by €5 million in 2018 and by another €2 million from 2019. That will almost double the current budget.

It is also important to inform people about the effects of new technologies. A recent campaign entitled ‘You’re sharing more than you think!’ was aimed at making internet users more aware of how much personal information they share with unknown parties. And the ‘AlertOnline’ campaign focuses on safe behaviour online. The government has also launched a campaign to make people aware of the risks involved in the use of digital equipment. To improve people’s digital literacy, implementing organisations (such as the Employee Insurance Agency, the Social Insurance Bank and the Tax and Customs Administration) are working with public libraries to provide access to free online facilities and digital literacy courses at local libraries. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science pursues policies to improve young people’s media literacy. Government agencies will be obliged to provide support for people who are unable to communicate with them digitally.