The annual award was launched to highlight privacy violations of companies and organisations. This is the fifteenth year that it has been awarded.

The jury report speaks about ‘tunnel vision and data hunger’ at DUO, which ‘continuously loses sight’ of the rights of students and former students.

Tracking software

DUO has used tracking software in e-mails to students and thus breached the rules. The student finance organisation could see whether someone had received and read their message. The computer’s IP address was also registered. DUO stopped doing this when the Volkskrant questioned the practice.

The jury also wondered why DUO was willing to cooperate in sharing information about student debts with mortgage providers. According to the jury, DUO was also too vigorous in collecting student debts: abroad, defaulters are unable renew their Dutch passport, for example.

Besides DUO, NWO department ZonMW was also nominated for financing research into big data relating to baby and youth services. The risks for the privacy of families and children were insufficiently taken into account, the jury felt.

Benefit fraud

The third nominated (and likely winner) is the Systeem Risico Indicatie, a digital surveillance system “that links random and indeterminate sensitive information relating to citizens to trace benefit fraud,” says the jury.

One of the jury members is Alex Tess Rutten, president of the Dutch National Union of Students. DUO cannot yet respond to the nomination, according to a spokesperson.

The Bits of Freedom foundation promotes Internet freedom. The name of the annual award is derived from George Orwell’s novel 1984 about a totalitarian society whose leader (Big Brother) uses surveillance cameras to watch everyone.