«Being ruled through secret source code or algorithms should never be allowed in a democratic country under the rule of law»
Civio filed an administrative appeal on June 20 after the Council of Transparency and Good Governance (CTBG) declined to force the release of source code of software dismissing eligible aid applicants.
The complexity of the process combined with the malfunctioning software, BOSCO, and lack of information about the nature of rejections resulted in only 1,1 million people out of 5,5 potential beneficiaries profiting from the so-called Bono Social. The former government estimated 2,5 million people would receive the subsidy.
The so-called Bono Social de Electricidad is a discount on energy bills to at-risk individuals and families. The complexity of the application process and the lack of information from the administration, were preventing disadvantaged groups from applying. Energy companies use BOSCO, a software created in 2018 by the Spanish Ministry for Green Energy Transition, to decide who is entitled to the subsidy.
After weeks assessing how to improve the application process our team had many questions and doubts. “If we are confused, imagine how applicants are feeling!”, we thought. Civio reported it to authorities and in order to ease the application process, our team together with the National Commission on Markets and Competition (CNMC) came up with a simplified app. Municipalities, NGOs, media and individuals embedded Civio’s app and shared it thanks to a massive outreach campaign lead by Civio. This has helped over 300,000 citizens.
Civio began reporting about new legislation modifying access criteria to the so-called Bono Social de Electricidad, discounts on energy bills to at-risk individuals and families.
Lack of information in addition to the complexity of the process prevented people to apply on time through the app BOSCO. Civio reported it and created a widely shared App to ease the procedure. We worked closely with the government to solve some of the spotted errors in the app and requested the source code of the software. Something does not add up.
We keep collaborating with the administration by proposing ways to improve the Bono Social, which will be included in the national strategy against energy poverty. However after denying Civio de right to know how BOSCO works, ratified by the Transparency Council, we are forced to appeal their decision before court.
After dozens of calls from wrongly dismissed applicants, our team requested information about the software and its source code. In the documents shared with us, Civio found out that the software was turning down illegible applications and worked with authorities to mitigate spotted shortcomings. We got no reply from the administration regarding BOSCO’s code. We need it to find out how it works and the criteria set to grant subsidies. Meanwhile we kept a collaborative attitude with the administration, sharing our proposals to improve measures against energy poverty.
Unfortunately both the government and the Council of Transparency and Good Governance denied Civio access to the code by arguing that sharing it would incur in a copyright violation. However, according to the Spanish Transparency Law and the regulation of intellectual property, work carried out in public administrations is not subjected to copyright.
“Being ruled through secret source code or algorithms should never be allowed in a democratic country under the rule of law,” highlights Javier de la Cueva, Civio’s lawyer and trustee, in the lawsuit. “The current interpretation of the law by the CTBG will allow public administration to develop algorithms hidden from public scrutiny,” he warns. For this reason, we appealed the refusal of the Transparency Council before court.
At Civio we believe the right to information should be pursued and defended, wherever necessary. This is a serious matter. Please, help us spread the word and, if you’re concerned too, help us keep up the pressure: become a member of Civio or contribute with a one-off donation. We’ll prove it’s worth it.
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Civio spotlights goverment actions and exposes wrongdoing to spur reforms.