NETHERLANDS: Audit on algorithms


Why are we auditing algorithms?

The Netherlands Court of Audit is launching an audit into the governments use of algorithms. The impact of algorithms on the way the Government acts and performs is ever increasing, which in turn impacts the public and business. Therefore, it is important for the Netherlands Court of Audit to gain better insights into the types of algorithms used by the Government, for which activities they are being used, their impact on society and how to best assess them.

In line with our strategy, Trust based on Understanding, we will assess independently how the government’s algorithms work in practice and identify areas where improvements can be made. This is the Court’s very first audit of the societal effects of algorithms.

An algorithm is a set of rules that a computer automatically follows to make calculations that can solve problems or answer questions. The government is increasing its use of them in its IT systems. The expectation is that algorithms increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its services, more so than traditional IT applications algorithms are also playing a more prominent role in automated decision-making that affect the public and businesses. This leads to growing concerns about discrimination, privacy, transparency, accountability and the like.

What questions will our investigation ask?

  • What types of algorithm are being used by the Government and the organisations associated with it and in what activities and processes? What are the outcomes and risks?
  • How have the administration / governance and quality control of the algorithms used by the government and the organisations associated with it been organised?
  • To what extent are the risks of certain selected algorithms controlled and benchmarked against an assessment framework?

We will select and assess a number of algorithms that the government is currently using and that have an impact on the public and business. We will do so by developing an assessment framework based on existing standards and best practices. The assessment framework will serve as a platform that can be used both inside and outside central government in the future.

Audit started: February 2020

Planned publication date: end of January 2021