Dutch BBA 2016: Facial recognition, medical data and safe messaging

By EDRi · November 30, 2016

An anonymous country singer, the watchdog-walking service and the I-have-nothing-to-hide musical. These were just a few elements thrown in by theatre producers and performers Oscar Kocken and Daan Windhorst. Just add a crash course “Lying with charts”, a few tasteful awards, and you have an awards ceremony – simultaneously funny and serious – about privacy.

Which emotions did Hans de Zwart, Director of the Dutch EDRi member Bits of Freedom show when he talked about a world full of cameras that analyse faces and facial expressions? With the help of a set of websites and promotional videos, he showed what the current state of facial recognition technology is. Although its use is still limited, it will definitely expand rapidly during the years to come. Yet another chapter from Orwell’s novel “1984” is about to become reality.

Of course, an award ceremony needs the awards. Edith Schippers, Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, received the Big Brother Award for her bill for the expansion of health insurance companies’ ability to obtain access to the medical files of patients in order to tackle fraud. For the public that nominated the minister, this is one of many cases in which the doctor-patient confidentiality is being crumbled.

The experts granted their award to the municipality of Rotterdam. Since 2006, municipalities have the legal means to refuse housing to “unemployed newcomers” in certain neighbourhoods of the city. By now, fifteen municipalities have consulted the police on whether they are familiar with these people. “Citizens are being labelled as potential risks, and they are in fact preventively punished for actions they have not yet committed, based on criteria and data of which they are not even aware”, said Bart de Koning, one of the experts.

The “Felipe Rodriguez Award” is the award Bits of Freedom grants for an extraordinary contribution to enhancing privacy. This year, the award was given to Open Whisper Systems, the developer of the encrypted instant messaging and voice calling application Signal and the end-to-end encryption protocol of the same name. Signal enables users to communicate securely: only the receiver can decrypt the sender’s message. Open Whisper System’s goal is to make mass surveillance impossible. Therefore, they even helped competing mobile apps, such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Google’s Allo, that now allow over a billion people to communicate securely. During her speech, Lilia Kai, Open Whisper Systems developer, urged the audience to remain optimistic: “We cannot win a war against surveillance if we are losing a battle against ourselves.”

As a part of the Big Brother Awards, the attendees could visit an exhibition “Rendering Realities” by Leonardo Selvaggio. Entering the exhibition, they were handed out masks to protect themselves against facial recognition.

This article was originally published at

Video: Big Brother Awards 2016

Open Whisper Systems at the Dutch Big Brother Awards

(Contribution by Daphne van der Kroft, EDRi member Bits of Freedom, the Netherlands)