Data management: the system of basic registers for citizens and businesses
Basic registers contain information on our identity, income, work, homes and vehicles – to give just a few examples. The government uses this information to award grants and allowances, detect fraud and misuse and levy taxes. The information is also used in business to buy and sell vehicles and properties and establish the creditworthiness of business counterparts. This use and reuse of data, also known as data-driven or data-informed decision making, is accelerating, not only in government but also in business. The Netherlands Court of Audit accordingly asked whether the people concerned have any control over the collection, use and reuse of their data.
The citizens’ perspective was one of themes in our audit of basic registers in 2014. We also placed the concerns of citizens and businesses at the heart of this follow-up audit. We asked whether the recommendations we had made in 2014 had actually been followed up. We also analysed the 10 individual basic registers and the system as a whole to identify remaining problems in, for instance, user friendliness and consistency.
Citizens and businesses not yet at centre of basic registers
Government organisations request data from citizens and businesses and enter them in basic registers only once. It then uses this information to take decisions and action. This ‘single entry, multiple use’ principle is efficient and effective for the government. It can also have benefits for citizens and businesses, too, as they do not have to repeatedly provide the same information time and again. The downside of such reuse, however, is that people can lose sight and control of their own data. Too little is currently being done to place citizens and businesses at the centre of the system of basic registers. There is no coordinated, simple procedure that lets citizens and businesses see what information the government has on them or correct errors in the data. There is also no central reporting desk that can resolve problems and correct errors that have spread across more than one database.
On the basis of our findings and conclusions, we make the following recommendations:
As in 2014, our main recommendation is that a central reporting desk be set up as soon as possible so that citizens and businesses can report problems in the basic registers. The desk should resolve problems and correct errors that have spread across several databases or organisations.
We also recommend that the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) take measures centrally in order to set and monitor common milestones in five areas: data access, data correction, data reuse, compatibility of transparent/open data with data privacy and security, and quality management. As the Minister of BZK does not have a legal basis to push this recommendation through in some of these areas, we suggest that the management of those areas be centralised in the Council of Ministers. The Minister of BZK can place this recommendation on the agenda after consultation with the relevant parties.
We further recommend that the Minister of BZK set a clear course for the further development of the system of basic registers, in the form of a concrete vision for the short, medium and long term, for example for three, five and 10 years, including a plan of action for the necessary change processes. The vision should specifically consider the required size of the system, whether the principle of single data collection will also apply to other government databases and the relationship with databases that are not yet included in the system of basic registers.
Why did we audit basic registers?
The Court of Audit initially audited basic registers in 2014. We identified a series of problems and made recommendations. Monitoring of the recommendations in 2017 found that not all of them had been implemented. This prompted us to carry out this follow-up audit of basic registers.
What audit methods did we apply?
To answer our audit questions we analysed relevant policy papers and documentation on the basic registers. We confirmed our findings with the parties concerned and the Ministry of BZK as the party responsible for the system. We also held 15 interviews with those responsible for the policy, management and operation of all the basic registers and with people and organisations relevant to determine the perspective of citizens and businesses, such as the Kafka Brigade, a research network on red tape and dysfunctional bureaucracy, and the National Ombudsman.
The Minister of BZK, who is responsible for the system of basic registers, and the State Secretary for BZK responded to our report on 27 May 2019. Their response is available in full at www.rekenkamer.nl.