B. Technology in service of democracy and fundamental rights

10. Take care that government ICT systems respect the principles of good administration. Introduce the right to the central rectification of data.

 
Legal rules for dealing with citizens – including the principle of legality, the right to explanation, and the principles of proportionality and legal certainty – must also apply to a government that goes digital. In practice, it may happen that government ICT systems are set up in a way that violates good administration. For example, when the software cannot handle the complexity of the rules or cannot be corrected. In this way, incorrectly enter­ed information about citizens can persist in government databases for years; even helpful government professionals are powerless against the systems. Municipalities and other governments must not allow ICT systems to undermine the principles of good administration.

Citizens who frequently travel abroad or sublet their home may be deregistered by their municipality. In the population register, they are labelled ‘departed, destination un­known’, sometimes without their knowledge and against their will. The consequences can be dramatic: these individuals might lose their health insurance, state pension accrual and parking licence, can no longer apply for a passport or driving licence, do not receive a voting pass for elections; if they own a company, it may also be deregistered. If an affected individual manages to re-register, all these rights and entitlements are not automatically restored. That requires him or her to undertake an arduous journey through various autho­ri­ties.[1]
The city of Amsterdam has set up a municipal hotline for chained errors in order to rectify incorrect data about citizens that have seeped through from one system to another. The reports come from officials who are confronted with distraught citizens and from the municipal ombudsman. Citizens themselves, as yet, cannot turn directly to the hotline.[2]

Decisions that have far-reaching consequences for citizens or residents, such as invo­lun­tary deregistration from the population register, should not be taken on autopilot. Good administration requires that, in each individual case, the various inter­ests at stake are weighed up against each other, on the basis of fairness and propor­tiona­lity, where­by a munici­pality needs to make an effort to contact the person con­cerned.

If an unjusti­fied deregistration or another erroneous decision has set off a chain of other (automated) decisions, to the citizen’s detriment, a municipality must assume responsibility for correcting the mistake. Citizens may not be sent from pillar to post. Munici­palities, as well as other authorities, should introduce the right to central rectification: all rights that a citizen or resident loses because of an administrative act must be restorable by a single admini­strative act as well.[3]

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Further viewing

Video: Council of Europe, 12 principles of good governance at local level

Footnotes

[1] Arjan Widlak & Rik Peeters, De digitale kooi – (on)behoorlijk bestuur door informatiearchitectuur, 2018, pp. 63-70 (in Dutch)
[2] See Gemeentelijk Meldpunt Ketenfouten (in Dutch)
[3] Arjan Widlak & Rik Peeters, De digitale kooi – (on)behoorlijk bestuur door informatiearchitectuur, 2018, pp. 123-124 (in Dutch). This also follows from article 19 of the GDPR: “The controller shall communicate any rectification or erasure of personal data or restriction of processing (…) to each recipient to whom the personal data have been disclosed, unless this proves impossible or involves disproportionate effort.” A government that takes refuge behind the exception clause, puts a disproportionate onus on the citizen.

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