Right To Privacy

System Risk Indicator (SyRI)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: SyRI

Mains level: Debate over right to privacy

  • In a first anywhere in the world, a court in the Netherlands recently stopped a digital identification scheme for reasons of exclusion.
  • This has a context for similar artificial intelligence (AI) systems worldwide, especially at a time when identity, citizenship and privacy are pertinent questions in India.


  • Last week, a Dutch district court ruled against an identification mechanism called SyRI (System Risk Indicator), because of data privacy and human rights concerns.
  • It held SyRI was too invasive and violative of the privacy guarantees given by European Human Rights Law as well as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.
  • The Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs developed SyRI in 2014 to weed out those who are most likely to commit fraud and receive government benefits.
  • Legislation passed by Dutch Parliament allowed government agencies to share 17 categories of data about welfare recipients such as taxes, land registries, employment records, and vehicle registrations with a private company.
  • The company used an algorithm to analyse data for four cities and calculate risk scores.

What were the arguments in court?

  • After taking into account community concerns, civil society groups and NGOs launched a legal attack on this case of algorithmic governance.
  • Legal criticism mounted, alleging that the algorithm would begin associating poverty and immigrant statuses with fraud risk.
  • The Dutch government defended the programme in court, saying it prevented abuse and acted as only a starting point for further investigation instead of a final determination.
  • The government also refused to disclose all information about how the system makes its decisions, stating that it would allow gaming of the system.
  • The court found that opaque algorithmic decision-making puts citizens at a disadvantage to challenge the resulting risk scores.
  • The Netherlands continuously ranks high on democracy indices.

How relevant is this for India?

  • Similar to the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar judgment setting limits on the ID’s usage, the Hague Court attempted to balance social interest with personal privacy.
  • However, the Aadhaar judgment was not regarding algorithmic decision-making; it was about data collection.
  • The ruling is also an example of how a data protection regulation can be used against government surveillance.
  • India’s pending data protection regulation, being analysed by a Joint Select Committee in Parliament, would give broad exemptions to government data processing in its current form.
  • India’s proposed regulation is similar to the US in the loopholes that could be potentially exploited.

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