Curtailing the surveillance state? A panel discussion on the SyRI case judgment

06 February 2020
  • Starts at: 16:00h
  • Fee: Free
  • Venue: T.M.C Asser Instituut
  • Organiser: T.M.C Asser Instituut & Bij Voorbaat Verdacht
  • Address: R.J. Schimmelpennincklaan 20-22
    2517 JN The Hague
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On Wednesday, 5 February, the District Court in The Hague announced its judgment in the SyRI Case. The case concerns the Dutch government’s use of large-scale, data-driven surveillance techniques to detect welfare fraud, and the court ruled the system as prohibited due to the violation of human rights law.

The SyRI (System Risk Indication) process produces ‘risk alerts’ by applying algorithmic risk models to a wide variety of public databases where private information on individuals is stored. This raises numerous concerns from the perspective of the human right to privacy and social security.

The case is being closely followed around the world and has raised concerns by prominent human rights scholars, as indicated by the amicus curiae submitted by UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston. At the hearings in the case on 29 October 2019, it became clear the questions raised by this controversy have a legal and societal importance extending even beyond the scope of the momentous SyRI system itself. How does the detection of associations and anomalies through the combined use of big data and artificial intelligence differ from earlier methods of surveillance, investigation and administrative decision-making? How should the ‘risk indicators’ produced through algorithmic learning be legally qualified, assessed and evaluated? Which normative presumptions become operative in the ‘black box’ of risk modelling? How does the increasing use of these surveillance technologies affect the relationship of trust between citizens and the state? And, most importantly, what role can international human rights law and privacy protection standards play in curtailing and regulating the use of these novel digital technologies? After taking significant strides towards climate justice in the Urgenda Case, in short, the District Court in The Hague has again been called upon to decide a controversy with significant societal and international legal importance.

On Thursday 6 February, the Asser Institute organises a panel discussion on this landmark case. Panelists include the lawyers involved in the SyRI case, leading scholars specialised in the legal and political questions concerning the use of artificial intelligence by the state, and prominent public commentators on the social impact of technological transformation. While the panel discussion will start from a discussion of the SyRI judgment, it will extend beyond the specific legal issues raised in this controversy to have a broader discussion on public authority, digital transformation and the enhancement of trust through law.


  • Tijmen Wisman (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Platform Bescherming Burgerrechten)
  • Sanne Blauw (De Correspondent)
  • Valery Gantchev (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen)
  • Sonja Bekker (Tilburg University)

Asser researcher Dr Dimitri van den Meerssche will moderate the panel. 

Dr Dimitri Van Den Meerssche is part of the Asser research strand on Dispute Settlement and Adjudication in International and European Law. This research strand is organised around inquiry into attributes of trustworthy dispute settlement in international adjudication.

This is part of The Hague courts dialogue series. The Hague Courts Dialogue Series is a regular series of events organised in consultation with colleagues from the Hague courts community, and in coordination with Le Club de Droit International, building on Asser’s traditional ICJ Series