When the computer says No

Writing a thesis when there is WiFi, on numerous days this combination is counterproductive. But can I hold the WiFi accountable for that? Or would I had this problem aswell without it? On some days even doing the household seems more interesting then my thesis. This would probably be the same 20 years ago. Nevertheless we can assume that the introduction on PC, internet and smartphones have changed our way of life. To stay healthy, sane or productive,  we have to find new ways of self-discipline.

In a nutshell this is what my study is all about. The government in the Netherlands in both social security and tax depends heavily on ICT. This is the case in the back-offices where the administrations combine three things to make a decision for an individual: data the citizen provides, business rules and other data that are collected out of the databases of the ‘government’. Many different, sometimes decentralised administrations/governments form the more abstract ‘government’.

A citizen who gets unemployed for instance, has several administrations to communicate with. Each of them has its own powers, discretion and executes different laws. http://www.noraonline.nl/images/noraonline/6/6d/Ketenkaart_loonaangifteketen.png

These administrations not only work full-automated in the back-offices, they are interrelated with each other. This is called chain-computing. It constitutes the situation that one decision leads to another automated chaindescision. I am driven (at least most of the time) by the curiosity if the remedies we have in administrative law for individuals against decisions on tax or social security are still effective when they are the result of chaincomputing. In my research I want to use the studies in administrative science. They show for instance that the power to make decisions no longer belongs to street level bureacrats but to the system-level-bureaucrats, the people who build the business rules http://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/12211).

I also want to use the knowledge we have on the difference between legal reasoning (with a big part for language and words) and the way the computer works (math! and algorithms).  And there are clues that once data are presented on computer screens it is very hard for a person to proof not only to the administration itself (I refer to the sad case of Dolmatov: http://www.government.nl/documents-and-publications/publications/2013/04/12/summary-conclusions-and-recommendations-in-english.html) but aswell to the judge that the computer is wrong. I want to combine these notions with the legal notions we have in European administrative law; principles as the principle of lawfulness and the principle of legal certainty. My inspiration is the recommendation of the committee of Ministers of member states Council of Europe on Good Administration (CM/Rec 2007/7): https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1155877 For me this makes so much sense since the dearly beloved people I think of writing this English post, are all people I met thanks to CoE.

On paper we have effective remedies and yes, you can bring your case against the government to an independent judge. My curiosity is laid in the question if those remedies are enough if the government is digital. Do we know the rules that the computer is working with? Can we foresee the full consequences of a decision if it is also used as part of another decision of another administration? Do we have the possibility to overrule the computer? Does a judge has all the necessary information? Can one discuss all the data that is used at once or are you confronted with governmental agencies that bounce your case around? I want to begin to answer those questions by doing some field case-studies.

One of the things that kept me going and ignoring the distractions WiFi can give, was the promising thought of visiting Jon Bing in Oslo to talk about this very interesting topic and it’s challanges for lawyers. Unfortunately he died last week. He was an icon in ITlaw http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Bing. He told me in Norway at university Oslo they have a course that combines administrative science on IT and administrative law on IT. I am sure not only the Netherlands and Norway have governments depending on automated chaincomputing decisions. Please contact me if you know something helpful for me.

http://youtu.be/0n_Ty_72Qds

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2 gedachtes over “When the computer says No

  1. Please excuse my use of English. This research sounds very interesting. I suggest contacting Tom van Engers at Leibniz Center for Law, University of Amsterdam: he and his colleagues have worked with several administrative departments in the government of the Netherlands to implement expert systems (decision support systems) and systems for automatically updating legal information resources. Look particularly at the immigration department and the tax/revenue department. Some of this work is done under their project called AGILE. Van Engers and colleagues can likely identify promising possibilities for cases. Within the judiciary, I recommend contacting Judge Dory Reiling of the Amsterdam District Court, who wrote her PhD thesis on judicial information technology. She is probably the most knowledgeable person in the world about the relationship between judicial discretion and information technology. I hope this helps.

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