Platform for City Culture and Public Debate


The Suspicion Machine

w/ Gabriel Geiger, Miriyam Aouragh, Marlies van Eck & Sofia Ranchordas

Date: Thursday 13 April 2023
Time: 20:00
Location: Independent School, Delftsestraat 33
Admission: €10,- (regular), €6,- (reduction)
Language: English

Across the world, experimental predictive algorithms are being deployed that promise to prevent welfare fraud. Now for the first time, an international team of journalists gained unprecedented access to one of these “suspicion machines” in the city of Rotterdam. An investigation by Lighthouse Reports, WIRED and Vers Beton demonstrates how governments all over Europe – and municipalities like Rotterdam – are deploying AI risk scoring systems in welfare fraud detection, revealing discrimination, wide-scale surveillance, and a trail of lives ruined. 

Every year, Rotterdam carries out investigations on some of its 30,000 welfare recipients. Since 2017, the city has used a machine learning model to flag suspected welfare cheats. Lighthouse Reports obtained Rotterdam’s welfare fraud algorithm and the data used to train it, giving unparalleled insight into how such a system works. Rotterdam was chosen as the centrepiece of this investigation not because what it is doing is especially novel, but because it was the only one willing to share the code behind its algorithm used to predict benefits fraud.

On Thursday April 13  investigative journalist Gabriel Geiger (Lighthouse Reports) will share what they uncovered and discuss why it matters with digital anthropologist Miriyam Aouragh (Westminster University London), lawyer and researcher Marlies van Eck (Radboud University Nijmeghen) and Professor of Administrative Law Sofia Ranchordas (Tilburg University). Examining Rotterdam’s welfare fraud algorithm we look at the serious flaws and biases it contains, the human impact caused by its decisions, and what it reveals about the future of AI. The evening is moderated by science journalist Geert Maarse.

Join us at The Independent School for the City!

This programme was conceived in collaboration with De Dépendance guest curator Nuria Ribas Costa and Lighthouse Reports.


Gabriel Geiger

Gabriel Geiger is an investigative journalist at Lighthouse Reports – an award-winning pioneer of collaborative journalism – where he specialises in surveillance and algorithmic accountability reporting. His work often grapples with issues of inequality from a global lens. Geiger is the lead reporter of Lighthouse Reports’ Suspicion Machines investigation.

Miriyam Aouragh

Miriyam Aouragh is a media anthropologist, reader at the Communication and Media Research Institute of the University of Westminster, and co-director of The Institute for Technology in The Public Interest where she studies the impact of digitalization on public institutions.

Marlies van Eck

Marlies van Eck is partner/advisor at Hooghiemstra & Partners and guest researcher at Radboud University Nijmegen. As a lawyer she focuses on legal protection of cititzens in relation to the automated government. Recently she led a research group that developed The LegitiMate. This is a visitation method that helps governments being accountable when using algorithms to execute legislation.

Sofia Ranchordas

Sofia Ranchordas is Professor of Administrative Law at Tilburg University and Professor of Law, Innovation, and Sustainability at LUISS Guido Carli in Rome. Her current research focusses on the rights of vulnerable citizens in the digital society, the impact of digital social welfare on fundamental rights, the protection of public values in the platform economy, and the design of smart cities.

Geert Maarse

Geert Maarse is a journalist and programme-maker. Having worked for Erasmus University for over five years, he is specialized in connecting scientific research to public debate. He has a background in Business Administration and Cultural Studies. He is the founder and regular host of Studio Erasmus, a monthly science magazine broadcasted by OPEN Rotterdam. He worked on a documentary and published in a number of online and offline media (de Volkskrant, Vers Beton, Erasmus Magazine).