Taking Digital Welfare Systems to Court

Taking Digital Welfare Systems to Court

DFF’s second Speakers Series will run throughout October and November 2021. It will explore litigation against the so-called “digital welfare state” and feature preeminent speakers from across the world. Registration is available below.

Thursday 7 October, 17:00 – 18:00 CET

Biometric IDs: Battling Aadhaar in India

Aadhaar has been described as the world’s largest biometric ID system. Those seeking access to vital support and essential services have to sign up to Aadhaar by providing their personal and biometric data such as fingerprints, facial photographs, and iris scans. 

The system has been challenged before the Indian courts, including in 2018 when the Indian Supreme Court upheld the Aadhaar requirement for access to government welfare and for filing income taxes. Since then, litigation continues to be brought challenging the ongoing harms caused by the policy and its implementation. 

Colin Golsalves, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India, will discuss his work in seeking redress for those whose lives have been irrevocably and catastrophically changed by the system’s technical glitches, design flaws and arbitrary decisions.

The conversation will be moderated by Malavika Jayaram, the Executive Director at Digital Asia Hub, Singapore.

Colin Golsalves
Colin Golsalves

Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India

Malavika Jayaram
Malavika Jayaram

Executive Director at Digital Asia Hub, Singapore

Wednesday, 13 October 2021, 17:00 – 18:00 CET

Profiling Algorithms: Safeguarding the Unemployed in Poland

In 2014, the Polish Ministry of Labor and Social Policy introduced an automated decision-making system that profiled unemployed individuals based on their personal characteristics. The profiles given to individuals would determine the kind of support they would receive from local labour offices. 

In 2018, Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled that the Ministry’s use of this profiling tool violated the Polish Constitution. 

Jędrzej Niklas, Research Associate at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture and the Data Justice Lab, will discuss how this controversial policy came about, its impact, and how it was challenged before the polish courts. 

The conversation will be moderated by Cengiz Barskanmaz, a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Berlin.

Jędrzej Niklas
Jędrzej Niklas

Research Associate at Cardiff University's School of Journalism, Media and Culture and the Data Justice Lab

Cengiz Barskanmaz
Cengiz Barskanmaz

Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Berlin

Thursday, 21 October 2021, 17:00 – 18:00 CET

Automating Care: Challenging Assessment by Computer in Arkansas

In 2016, the Arkansas Department of Human Services rolled out an algorithm that replaced nurses in carrying out assessments of individuals’ care needs. The Department did this without notifying those who would be most affected by this change. 

Those who relied on the Department for vital support saw drastic cuts in their care hours due to the algorithm, and they were no longer getting the support they desperately needed. In 2017, after three years of litigation, the Supreme Court of Arkansas recognised that the algorithm was causing “irreperable harm” to welfare beneficiaries. 

Kevin De Liban, Director of Advocacy at Legal Aid of Arkansas, will talk about the case he helped bring before the Supreme Court of Arkansas and the litigation he continues to work on to protect human rights against the ever increasing digitisation of social care. 

The conversation will be moderated by Shannon Vallor, the Baillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence at the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) at the University of Edinburgh.

Kevin De Liban
Kevin De Liban

Director of Advocacy at Legal Aid of Arkansas

Shannon Vallor
Shannon Vallor

Baillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence at the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) at the University of Edinburgh

Wednesday, 27 October 2021, 17:00 – 18:00 CET

Digital Payments: Protecting Rights against the Privatisation of Social Security in South Africa

In 2012, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) entered an exclusive contract with a private company, Cash Paymaster Services (CPS), for the administration of South Africa’s social security payments nationwide. 

CPS had access to the personal and financial data of millions of South Africa’s poorest citizens because of this relationship, and this data was subsqeuantly exploited by third parties such as lenders, life insurance providers and mobile money services. 

In 2017, following litigation brought by Black Sash, the Constitutional Court ruled that the contractual relationship between SASSA and CPS led to a situation in which “the executive arm of government admits that it is not able to fulfil its constitutional and statutory obligations to provide for the social assistance of its people.”

Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker, National Advocacy Manager at Black Sash, will talk about their litigation and campaigning to stop unauthorised and unlawful debit deductions from bank accounts of social grantees and to protect their personal data.

The conversation will be moderated by Kuda Hove, a Policy Officer at Privacy International, London.

Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker
Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker

National Advocacy Manager at Black Sash

Kuda Hove
Kuda Hove

Policy Officer at Privacy International, London

Thursday, 3 November 2021, 17:00 – 18:00 CET

Risk Models: Dismantling Data-driven Fraud Detection in the Netherlands

The System Risk Indication (SyRI) was a risk-scoring model that was used by the Dutch authorities to identify those likely to commit welfare fraud. The system relied on personal and sensitive data that was pooled from the databases of various public bodies and had been criticised for being biased, discriminatory, intrusive and inaccurate. 

A coalition of NGOs, led by the Public Interest Litigation Project and the Platform Bescherming Burgerrechten, joined forces with a Dutch trade union federation and two authors to bring litigation challenging SyRI on human rights grounds. In 2020, a court ruled that the law underpinning SyRI was in violation of the right to private life. 

Merel Hendrickx, a lawyer at the Public Interest Litigation Project, will discuss her experience working on this landmark case and what she believes still needs to be done by courts and governments to protect citizens against harmful risk scoring models in welfare contexts. 

The conversation will be moderated by Nahed Samour, a Researcher at the Law & Society Institute at Humboldt University Berlin.

Merel Hendrickx
Merel Hendrickx

Lawyer at the Public Interest Litigation Project

Nahed Samour
Nahed Samour

Researcher at the Law & Society Institute at Humboldt University Berlin

Wednesday, 11 November 2021, 17:00 – 18:00 CET

(Mis)calculating Income: Taking on Digitised Universal Credit in the UK

In 2018, three single working mothers, represented by Child Poverty Action Group, successfully challenged the rigid method used by welfare authorities to calculate earned income. 

This method failed to take into account that, on occasion, they would receive two wage payments in the same month. For example, if they were paid on a fixed date at the start or end of a month, their monthly wage payment would be brought forward or back to avoid bank holidays and weekends. This resulted in a reduction to their welfare payments despite there being no change to their income, leading to them falling into rent arrears, defaulting on council tax, incurring bank overdraft charges, borrowing money and even becoming reliant on food banks.

Carla Clarke, head of strategic litigation at Child Poverty Action Group, will reflect on how bad design choices in digital welfare systems can result in serious human rights violations and why this legal challenge was so crucial. 

The conversation will be moderated by Amos Toh, a Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch, New York.

Carla Clarke
Carla Clarke

Head of Strategic Litigation at Child Poverty Action Group

Amos Toh
Amos Toh

Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch, New York