het SOFI-nummer

october 1996

for behold the number of the beast, and it is a human number

Since the introduction of the social-fiscal number, originally meant for the tax-administration, the automation has advanced. The extending and intensifying of exchange of data is men- tioned as one of the points of focus of the fraud-policy. The use of the sofi-number threatens to become a key to all kinds of data-files which have nothing to do with the original intention of this number. Under the guise of countering fraud the protection of privacy is put under pressure. Commercial interests as well will get access to the sofi-number.

In 1991 a connection was made between fiscality and social security on the one hand and countering illegal residence and illegal labour on the other hand. With that the terrain of the sofi-number, which was originally restricted to the admin- istration of the Tax office and executive departments of social security, was extended. The thought behind this was that execution of both goals would be performed better through automating the systems. Linking of files would improve the control on the correctness of the data. The basis of this philosophy is laid in the Fraud report of 1992. In this report intensifying and extending control and means of control, together with a stricter prosecution, are made paramount. For the legal support, a series of laws was necessary. On these laws is still being worked, but in the meanwhile the linking of ever more systems for intensified exercise of control on, and prosecution of, fraud and illegality, is still increasing.
Apparently, since the Fraud report, nobody came to the idea to first evaluate how things were going. On the contrary, when the Registration Chamber, the body of control for privacy, took a critical stand towards the policy, their advice was neglected, because efficiency in combatting fraud is the main goal and to reach that, excessive linking are thought necessa- ry. Effects of previous legislation is not waited up on. In this way it can happen that legislation follows on the techni- cal possibilities and protection of privacy follows on to that. At this point should be mentioned that the government is not hindered at all by the actual facts about the size of the problem, during the making of this policy. They refer to reports in the media, as if these concern reports of indepen- dent research agencies. Most of the time, a statement of the government itself is enough to promote something into a media- issue. Increasing interest in the media for cases of fraud can not prove anything about an increase in fraud in total. No doubt fraud will occur, but the size of it remains unclear.
Still the government spends a few millions in these times of budget-cuts, and another problem is seemingly solved. The question remains if this is so? Is not a new problem created, because some groups in society have no place to go to and are only pressurized more by these legislation. The alternative is not for everyone in finding a job, let alone a legal one.


The policy and its goal show a necessity to have increasing and proceeding policies. The execution of the fraud-policy started in november 1991 with only supplying a foreigner with a sofi-number by the Tax office, when the Aliens Branch of the Home Office agreed. In this way it was guaranteed that the system would be 'clean' from that moment on. A double problem arose at the same moment though. From before this date, people without a residence permit did have a sofi-number. The tracing of these people is one of the reasons of the linkings of today, although it was unclear at the start how many people were concerned. The other problem that arose through this measure is that the sofi-number itself became a target for fraud. To gain access to the legal jobmarket or benefits and subsidies, it is imperative to have this number. Control on possession of sofi-number and the correctness of it, has therefor become part of the execution of the policy and reasoning behind the linking. A first step to close the labor employment was made with the Bill on Identification of June first 1994. Since the first of june 1995, every employer is obligate to keep copies of the passports of all employees in his administration. In this way the chance of being caught, when using the sofi-number and personal data of somebody else for a legal job, has increased. Forced by the liberal policy and the increased competition on the labor employment, it is thought 'o.k.' that everyone has to identify him/herself to get rid of the economic, and therefor false, refugee.
They are cheap though, these illegal foreigners. To prevent employers to procure illegal labor, the next step was repla- cement of the Law on Labor of Foreign Employees (WABW) by the Law on Labor of Foreigners (WAV) on september the first 1995. Compared to the WABW the extended notion of the concept em- ployer enlarges the area of work for those in the executive field, the civil servants of the Inspection Service Social Affairs and Labor Relations (ISZW) and the regional police. By obliging the employer to control if somebody is allowed to enter the Dutch jobmarket, it is assured that the employer knows the status of residence. In the attempt to make it less attractive to use illegal labor the suggestion fits as if illegal workers have a better legal protection with the WAV, because the employer will be obliged to pay for a WW-benefit when he can not specify the begin date of work. From the per- spective of an employer this is fairly unpleasant. But the goal of the Law, to counter illegal labor, makes it probable that the illegal employees themselves will be part of the field of work of those who execute the WAV. Choosing between claiming what is rightfully yours and making yourself known when you are illegally residing in the Netherlands is a dubious choice.
This forcedly making known of your status of residence with unknown consequences, to be able to use your rights, also applies for the legal exceptions in the Linking Act, which has just been accepted by the Second Chamber of Parliament. These exceptions are the right to education and minimal health care. The sofi-number has been approved as an educational number by the cabinet council on june the 14th of this year. This educa- tional number is a personal number for everyone who partici- pates in education. Everyone who applies at an educational facility has to provide a document on which personal data are taken, among which the sofi-number. This will start from october 1997. To be able to make this work, community councils will be obliged to give all parents a document with the men- tioned data, including the sofi-number, when a child reaches its third birthday. Pupils without a sofi-number (foreigners applying for a study in the Netherlands, asylum-seekers and illegally in the Netherlands residing youths) are able to get an education as well. The following occurs: after application, the school reports the data to the Ministry of Education. Thus a sort of obligation to report illegals arises for the educa- tional facilities. The Ministry will then give the participant in education a specific educational number, which will be taken in the administration of the school. The educational number will be made by the Information Management Group (IBG).
The IBG is already linked to the Community for the exchange and control of data for the StudyFinancing.
The other right, minimal health care, is under pressure because the sofi-number is registered at the Health Insurance Funds, it is probably only a matter of waiting before it will also be taken in the General Law Special Health Care Costs. When using this care, statusless foreigners are given a fictive number. It remains unclear yet, how the policy will be directed towards such a clear sign of illegality, because the solution to this problem has been made dependent on the outco- me of the discussion on the Linking Act.
Then there is still article 48 of the Foreigners Bill, by which organisations are qualified and sanctioned to provide information in the importance of residence and admittance to the foreigners-service, when requested. Because other manage- ment has no idea which information the foreigners-service needs, with the progress of this asylum-policy, every foreig- ner, even those with a status are threatened to be checked. Because of the arrangement of competence all acts of racists in the civil servants corps threaten to be legitimised, as well as it will undermine the policy towards minorities.
A further closure of normal Dutch rights to foreigners without a status of residence, will take place through the earlier mentioned Linking Act. People without status will be excluded from nearly all collective facilities. For the execution of the Linking Act, the executive bodies concerned will have to check the identity-papers as well as inform GBA of the actual status of residence of someone applying for a certain facil- ity. The 'advantage' which is won with the Linking Act is that exclusion of all 'non-justified' is arranged for all sectors at once. But this exclusion is already in execution with linking between the Foreigners Administration System (VAS), the Community Basic Administration (GBA) and the Communal Reference Index (GVI) of company-associations GBA(?). The search-key with these and other linking is the sofi-number, which is now also registered in GBA. The registering of the sofi-number in GBA has as 'advantage' that justified institu- tions can consult GBA with the sofi-number instead of the A- number of the Population Register. Because status of residence is no criterium to be entered in GBA and to prevent that a foreigner could hold rights by showing an extract of GBA, the status of residence is entered in GBA through the VAS.
Therefor executive institutions can judge at GBA over any application for a facility, by a foreigner. When data about status of residence is missing the facility will be denied according to the Linking Act. For this reason, since the 22nd of April 1996, missing information about status of residence is always notified on extracts of GBA, on the basis of article 111 of the Law on GBA. The Tax office also does not supply people with a sofi-number, when they are registered in GBA to be without a residence permit. This happens since the linking of the GBA and VAS systems, on the first of May of 1996. In this way it is prevented that a foreigner without a residence permit can get a extract from GBA with a sofi-number. Finally the sofi-number is registered in passports. On the residence- papers of foreigners with a determined time of residence the sofi-number is also registered. Foreigners with a non-fixed time of residence right, get a special number from the Minis- try of Justice. By registering the sofi-number on identifica- tion papers, when verifying data, misuse of the number by using a made-up number, falsifying the document of the Tax office or use of a sofi-number of somebody else without the belonging personal information, can be checked. After all these measures it is not probable that illegals will want to heighten the chance of being caught by the foreigners-service, by registering in GBA. Therefor access to collective facilities and legal work, goals of the Linking Act, are almost completely close off.
Another possibility of control as consequence of the VAS-GBA linking concerns those foreigners without status of residence who have been registered in GBA with a sofi-number. With this measure a unique linking takes place between the sofi-number and the A-number in both the GBA and the administration of persons at the Tax office. Someone who has an Administration- number (A-number) registered, but no sofi-number will be sus- pect. The three major cities have used this method and have removed everyone who did not reply after a letter was sent, in this way excluding illegal foreigners from rights, in antici- pation of the Linking Act.

Fighting Fraud

There will be no soon end to the linking. An article in Beleid en Maatschappij 1996/3 from A. Zuurmond, lecturer at Erasmus University, shows that, for at least one year now, there has been worked at an 'intelligence bureau' fraud fighting. This intelligence bureau will have to fulfil a key function at checking the data of the clients of the benefit. The computersystems of all social security services will be adapted so that with all new applications, the obligatory controls and the non-obligatory incidental controls, a request for verification will be directed to the intelligence bureau. This will consult a large number of national administrations. Among these are minimally: the Communal Reference Index of the company-associations, the Tax Office, the InformatiseringsBank (IBG) (for grants and financing of study), the individual rent-subsidy, the State Service for Road Traffic and the Health Insurance Funds. This to check possible other income, assets and availability for the labourmarket. Linking with other administrations is possible though. There has been talk of 27 different administrations. Establishing this bureau will cost 30 to 60 million guilders, and the costs of exploitation will be another 30 million a year. This seems to be a part of RINIS (Routine Institute for International Information Streams), a sequence of experiments with linking and matching in social security. One of the activities in RINIS is an initiative of the Social Insurance Bank and the company-asso- ciations, which will have to make control in retrospect super- fluous. The principle is that organisations who need personal data for the execution of their tasks, collect these data from the original source (colleague administrations). With this the principle of single storage of data for multiple use takes shape. RINIS also seems to have international aspirations, which suggests that systems are or will be linked Europe wide. The preparations for the intelligence bureau have taken over a year now and without any social or public debate about it.
Making control in retrospect unnecessary by pro-active action fits in a society where suspicion has advanced so far that it has to be proved in advance that one does no wrong. These actions take place in a policy which is directed to the lower classes of society, where fraud has become more necessary with diminishing benefits and decreasing access to the labor market. Because the last few years nothing is left undone to suggest that it are mainly foreigners who practise fraud, an increase in racism is to be expected as a consequence of these legislation. A second consequence is directed to all those who do not work. An old and favourite liberal topic is that work is the only justified form of income. For the government this is a justification for budget-cuts, but it goes further. An equally old thought is that the lower classes have themselves to blame for their lack of position. More and more complaints are made about 'moral decay'. Increasing control on people who are dependent on income-replacing benefits under the denominator of fighting fraud has a strong disciplinary character. People will have to 'behave' and feel a 'strong hand' again, more then up till now.

New Census

When the linking of datafiles is completed, the state has another advantage. Besides fighting fraud and exchange of data, the legislator can permit the use of the sofi-number for weighty reasons. What will be simpler than to evade a disputed census by using data under a number in a way that the desired numbers show up, and still answer to the, in 1997 expected, guideline of the European Commission for a synchronised round of censuses in 2001. The Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS) is involved in the preparation of this round. The CBS has access to different administrations and registrations, to correct a failure to comply by certain categories of the population, by weighing social-demographic indexes. Use of this information does not have to be limited to weighing and can be used for more specific random tests. On top of that on july first 1996 the Law on the Central Bureau for Statistics was accepted, which aims to further the use of the sofi-number by the CBS, to accomplish an accurate and up-to-date statistic image of the Dutch society at acceptable costs. The sofi- number can be used for that purpose from the first of january 1997.

Personal Number

It is clear that these linking have consequences for the privacy. The Registration Chamber, instated in 1989, has to exercise supervision to the protection of privacy and advises the government about the execution of the Law on Personal Registration and other laws and regulations with consequences for the privacy. According to their year report of 1995, the Registration Chamber has called a measure, to extend the use of the sofi-number, 'unacceptable' in an advice to the govern- ment. The intended extending and the lack of a framework for legal trial, would lead to a firm extension of traffic of data between different public and private sectors, whereby an effective control of targeted use would be impossible, accord- ing to the Registration Chamber. The danger of negligent and illegitimate use would grow. In 1996 the Registration Chamber is also concerned for the privacy, pressurized by the increas- ing information technology and social developments like the privatisation of social security and health care. The sofi- number threatens to become the national personal number, with which every citizen can be mapped completely.
To make a start with a framework for legal trial, legal regu- lation has been drawn up for use of personal numbers, in the EC directory protection of personal data from 1995. Another basis is the Treaty of Strasbourg, on the subject of protec- tion of data. Principles are use for purpose and clarity of organisation and the data which it has. In this way the citi- zen will have to get more grip and a new balance between fighting fraud and criminality on the one hand and protection of the personal walk of life on the other, will have to be found. Also because of the directory, a conscious choice has to be made between the linking or not linking of datafiles with privacy sensitive information.
In accordance with the European regulations the evaluation of the Law on Personal Registration has started and the govern- ment has taken a position. Article 6a of the Law on Personal Registration is used as basis. This article states that insti- tutions themselves, or by provision through others, can use the sofi-number for the execution of a specific task. But also by order in council, cases can be indicated in which the number can be used. The Law on Personal Registration is too abstract to be able to protect the privacy in specific cases. Therefor a more specific signification of the actual demand for data of organisations is necessary. Task binding however does nothing against the extension of tasks, among which the 'intelligence bureau' and an automated census. Even with task binding an equilibrium between general and individual interest of a good privacy protection is not to be found. When privacy protection is lacking it is possible that out considerations of efficiency, linking will be executed and not out of pre- sumed necessity of otherwise not obtainable information. Therefor the outcome of the advice of the Registration Chamber of 1995, which led to use of the sofi-number by private insti- tutions like retirement funds and insurance companies, only for the execution of legal regulations, is no real relief. Although the Registration Chamber points at the danger of linking, this advice will be ignored. It is no more than an advice and the government has its own motives.


With the retirement funds and insurance companies we have come to another danger pointed out by the Registration Chamber, that of privatisation, by which commercially interesting data- files end up in the hands of organisations who know what to do with them. These criticisms of the Registration Chamber are also ignored. The discussion about the AWBZ is symptomatic for that.
During the discussion about the Law social-fiscal number in the Law on Health Insurance Funds (which came into action on april first 1996) it was pointed out that private insurance companies might possibly use information they would get as executives of the AWBZ (the General Law Specific Health Costs). When the Law social-fiscal number in the AWBZ came into action and the linking between communal social security services and health insurance funds, as proposed in the, on 23 june 1992 passed, motion Linschoten, they would get this information. The focuspoint of this discussion proved to be efficiency. In fact all information is already available at the common insurance administration of the company-associ- ations. The Tax office would be able to trace fraud there in this way. Also a combined advice of the Social Insurance Council, the VNG (the council of dutch communities), the GBA- organisation and the Health Insurance Funds Council, advised against an index for insurance companies, because third parties already had enough means to counter fraud, for example by attuning the information about address and living circum- stances with GBA and information about income with the com- pany-associations. But because the Tax Office is dependent of the yearly returns, fraud can only be discovered two years later. Involving the information of insurance administrations by the social security services would be faster. A great danger for the privacy should be taken for granted then, though. The datafiles that have to be exchanged contain inter- esting information for private health care funds in their own insurance and banking work.
The discussion in parliament ended in a draw. The consequence is that instead of cancelling the whole action, it is researched which information the concerned organisations might want to have, after which is looked how that fits in the conditions. Subsequently will be looked what the value is for others of the information in the health insurance funds admin- istration and how to increase the value by increasing admit- tance to it. The possibility of linking is thus wide open. For the sake of efficiency it will become possible for private companies to gain possession of connection to a sofi-network, possible violations of privacy will be established afterwards, while there are other means of control. Meanwhile it remains unclear who should control for misuse and which sanctions should follow. When the linking has succeeded, the question can be asked, aloud or silently, why a private research agency should not be able to ask the same questions and use the same key as the CBS does. That will stretch the binding of tasks, since use of information for a good conduct of business should not be kept for the governmentonly, will be reasoned.
That already the privacy is badly protected, is shown by a case of a woman of foreign descent versus the Amsterdam Popu- lation Register. Against her, expressed, will she was sent a questionnaire by mail for research about t.v.-ratings by a commercial organisation, because she belonged to the targeted group: foreigners. From the first letter it became clear that someone has sifted for a commercial goal. That this woman, despite her unwillingness to cooperate, still got a question- naire, shows that negligent care is taken to protect the privacy of those in datafiles. This was a case in which it was clear which information came from which organisation. With all the new linking it will become more difficult to check which information is used for what.

The Registration Chamber as an advisory body is not able to counter these developments. The linking go on almost unhin- dered, control itself is no more its goal, but to improve the control, by making it faster. The danger exists that personal data will be used commercially, whereby a violation of privacy is only controllable in retrospect. Besides, datafiles are not hacker-proof by definition. More linking will mean a greater danger of improper collection of information. It is all the more amazing that there has never been any real research into the size of fraud and/or the amounts involved. Leaving all legislation concerning privacy-protection aside, from the formulation of its goals of countering fraud and combatting illegality to the actual execution, the whole process is directed towards the lower classes of society, who have in- creasing reason to practise fraud, with diminishing welfare benefits and decreasing access to the labor market.

1996 Autonoom Centrum
email ac@xs4all.nl

http://www.xs4all.nl/~ac Sources:
Administratieve Apartheid, brochure Autonoom Centrum, juni 1996
Ik zal eens vragen naar zijn naam, 1989, WODC (Scientific Research and Documentation Centre of the Ministry of Justice)
Year Report 1995, Registration Chamber
press release council of cabinet 14 june 1995, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science

Articles: Beleid & Maatschappij 1996/3
Contrast, 2 may 1996
Staatsblad 1993 707
Staatsblad 1996 193
Migrantenrecht 93/10 and 96/1

Ministry of Finance:
Misbruik en onjuist gebruik van Sofi-nummer, 6 april 1995
Misbruik en onjuist gebruik van Sofi-nummer, 9 october 1995
Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Bescherming van de persoonlijke levenssfeer