Washed in blue: living lab Digital Perimeter in Amsterdam
An increasing amount of Dutch government agencies seem to resort to so-called ‘living labs’ and ‘field labs’ in order to test and experiment with technological innovations in a realistic setting. In recent years, these live laboratories have proven to be a useful stepping stone to introduce new technologies into public space. In the last several weeks, EDRi's member Bits of Freedom took a closer look at one of those living labs – the so-called Digital Perimeter surrounding the Johan Cruijff ArenA in Amsterdam – and were not pleased with what they saw.
An increasing amount of Dutch government agencies seem to resort to so-called ‘living labs’ and ‘field labs’ in order to test and experiment with technological innovations in a realistic setting. In recent years, these live laboratories have proven to be a useful stepping stone to introduce new technologies into public space. It’s therefore not hard to see that adhering to public values, fundamental rights and legal frameworks within these experiments is paramount. In the last several weeks, EDRi’s member Bits of Freedom took a closer look at one of those living labs – the so-called Digital Perimeter surrounding the Johan Cruijff ArenA in Amsterdam – and were not pleased with what they saw.
Within the Digital Perimeter, the municipality of Amsterdam, the Johan Cruijff ArenA, Dutch national police and research institute TNO joined hands to experiment with technologies aimed at increasing local or national security and mobility. Bodycams, a crowd monitoring system, smart sensors and real-time facial recognition software are tried and tested so the involved parties can get an idea of how the technology works and how it could work – in a more desirable way, that is.
Public communication about the Digital Perimeter promises that all the experiments conducted within the living lab conform to the so-called Tada-manifest. This initiative is brought to life in order to help organisations bring and keep their data projects in line with a number of public values and cohering principles. Moreover, Amsterdam is part of the Coalition of Cities for Digital Rights, an international conjunction committed to incorporating human rights into technologies implemented in public space. With all these promises and initiatives one is easily tricked into thinking the experiments conducted within the Digital Perimeter are in adherence to essential public values and fundamental rights.
Upon closer examination, however, only the municipality of Amsterdam seems to concern itself with complying with the Tada-values. Unfortunately, even then, this is done only in a superficial manner. Public communication about the project turned out to be insufficient or even plain wrong. For instance, it’s unclear where the living lab begins and ends, insight into the source and infrastructure of the technology is lacking, and information about the crowd monitoring system gives off the impression that the application is open-source, which it turned out not to be. Not only does this lack of transparency obfuscate citizen’s capability of assessing whether the experiments within the project are justified, it’s also hard to see how the project can be regarded as being in line with the endorsed public values. For one, transparency seems to be conditional for citizens to gain true benefit from their collected data. Moreover, it can hardly be argued that citizens have any control over the design of their digital city when they lack sufficient insight into what is happening.
But it’s not only the Tada-manifest that seems to be ignored by the municipality of Amsterdam. Their very own formulated principle appears to be neglected as well, namely that citizens should be able to navigate public space anonymously and unobserved. Installing more cameras and showing an interest in bodycams and facial recognition doesn’t really seem to lead in the right direction.
When it comes to experiments with facial recognition software, the endorsed public values and fundamental rights seem to disappear into the background even more. Improving data protection is at the centre of these experiments, while other essential values and rights appear to be insufficiently addressed. At the same time, the list of values and rights strained by the implementation of facial recognition technology is nothing short of extensive and alarming; for instance, the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of association and assembly are placed under pressure. It’s unclear to us how the current experimentation allows for the risks associated with facial recognition technology to be identified and obviated. And that while the threshold for implementation of facial recognition is lowered, as the technology is adjusted to become more attractive in terms of data protection.
All in all, living lab Digital Perimeter seems to be washed in blue – a practice in which superficial measures are implemented to appear more responsible and ethical than one is. By flaunting the Tada-manifest and Amsterdam’s participation in the Coalition of Cities for Digital Rights, it is strongly suggested that the experiments conducted within the living lab will eventually lead to responsible implementation. However, the aforementioned findings, unfortunately, suggest otherwise. The implementation of high-risk technology always calls for sufficient attention to public values and fundamental rights, even when it’s ‘only an experiment.’
Read the article in Dutch here.
Image credit: Sajad Nori/Unsplash
(Contribution by: Eva Krikken, Intern at Bits of Freedom)