Benefits agency UWV using tracking cookies to spy on welfare recipients: report

The benefits agency UWV uses cookies to collect data from benefit recipients and track their movements for long periods, NOS reports. The benefits agency uses the data to catch benefit recipients who go abroad without a valid reason, the broadcaster said.

Until now, the UWV suggested that it places “session cookies” that last one visit. However, NOS discovered that one of the cookies lasted up to six months. That cookie allows the UWV to link visits from the same device together, even if the user doesn’t log into or

For example, on day one, you go to the UWV site and log in with your DigiD. The UWV places several tracking cookies, including one linked to your citizen service number (BSN). A month later, you go to to look up some info, but you don’t log in. That doesn’t matter – thanks to the tracking cookies, your visit can be linked to your BSN.

NOS spoke to a benefit recipient who has experience with this system. He received a letter from the UWV accusing him of going abroad without a valid reason. He admitted to the UWV investigators that he occasionally visited his girlfriend in Germany. “Of course, you have to look for work if you have benefits, but I thought: if necessary, I will be back in the Netherlands in no time.” What struck him was the UWV’s extensive spreadsheet of proof, showing his visits to and, some from the Netherlands and some from abroad. He knew he did not log in for many of those site visits.

The UWV quietly stopped using the system early this year after criticism from the government’s lawyer, according to NOS.

“I’m really shocked by this,” D66 parliamentarian Hind Dekker-Abdulaziz told the broadcaster. “This seems completely disproportionate and completely against privacy legislation.” The D66 and DENK will submit parliamentary questions on the matter.

“This amounts to secret surveillance,” lawyer Anton Ekker told NOS. “The longer you watch someone, the more serious the breach, so this is even worse than thought.”

“The fact that they unabashedly use these cookies for such a long time, in our opinion, indicates that the UWV does not care much about privacy legislation,’ Nadia Benaissa of civil rights organization Bits of Freedom said.

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