The Ethics committee rules leniently on municipality of Eindhoven’s inadequate handling of its residents’ sensitive data. The committee has been advising Eindhoven since 2022 on social questions involved in working with new technologies.
The committee was engaged by the municipality in April 2022, after the same committee had been active with Brainport Smart District Foundation for some time. Ben Kokkeler, lecturer in Digitalisation and Security at Avans University of Applied Sciences and also chairman of the Ethics Committee, spoke to Studio040 about the situation.
“You see that this issue, how to deal with residents’ sensitive digital data, is an issue in many municipailities. We are in a transitional phase in that regard. A lot is being done with data, but how to deal with that data is something that is only now being discussed,” said Kokkeler.
The fact that the Personal Data Authority (AP) therefore recently reprimanded the municipality in no uncertain terms is therefore not very serious, Kokkeler believes. “It is now clear to the municipality of Eindhoven that some real hard work needs to be done in this respect. The laissez-faire attitude has now disappeared, so the reprimand is a good development”.
In addition, according to Kokkeler, the AP itself is also in the process of defining its role as watchdog. “It is up to the AP to monitor and support municipalities in how sensitive information of its citizens is handled. Cases like this also help this body to get a sharper sense of its responsibilities, what is expected of it.”
Kokkeler does not think that Eindhoven has been too energetic in collecting personal data, without the civil service organisation being ready for it. “You see Eindhoven playing a pioneering role in the Netherlands in terms of digitisation. They have been very energetic about that in this municipality, but then you also run into certain problems first”.
“Let there be no misunderstanding: data security in every organisation must always be 110 percent in order. That awareness is also there, we were already working hard on it, even before the news that the AP is going to monitor Eindhoven more closely. But you do depend on the expertise you have in-house and the number of available hours that specialists in this field have”, says Kokkeler.
Dealing properly with personal data is a multi-faceted challenge, Kokkeler says. “IT used to be part of the business operations. It was part of the department that also dealt with gas, water and electricity. But now it’s become much bigger, and it’s rooted in every single department in the civil service”.
“So you have to start a very broad culture change, where everyone has to know how to handle situations involving personal data. But you don’t achieve such a culture change that easily”.
For such a culture change, incidentally, the Ethics Committee also has a role to play, says Kokkeler. “For example, we can sit down with groups of officials to discuss where to sore points lie in that area, and what they need to deal better with personal data. Those are productive conversations.”
That leaves the question: is there enough expertise available to implement such a culture change, and: is there enough expertise in that area in the city council, to properly monitor the college. “The city council could also take more initiative in this regard”, says Kokkeler.
“The city council must monitor, but if the council feels that there is too little expertise among council members to fulfill that role, then the Court of Audit can also be commissioned to ensure that people are retrained in that area. A study can also be conducted to see in which areas more expertise is needed. But the city council has not taken those steps either”, Kokkeler says.
And that while it is precisely the city council that has an important role to play in the path to municipal AVG stewardship. “Ultimately, the ethical issue lies with the council”, says Kokkeler. “It must determine how to interpret values such as privacy, transparency, autonomy, and make them applicable in politics. There are still steps to take there as well”, according to the Ethics Committee chairman.
Translated by: Anitha Sevugan