B. Technology in service of democracy and fundamental rights
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.
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.
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.