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Dagblad Zaanstreek, 11 July 2015: 'Privacy First Foundation strongly criticises Zaanstad's new parking ticket system'

Zaans parking violates privacy: 'you look behind the front door' 

Zaanstad's new digital system for visitor parking permits violates privacy rules. So says Privacy First, the foundation fighting for the protection of private data.The paper parking permit for visitors was exchanged for a digital variant last month. Via app, internet or phone, residents have to report which license plate is using such a card on which day. More customer-friendly, more efficient and less susceptible to fraud, says the municipality. Absurd, Privacy First thinks. "You have the right to visit others anonymously and with the push of a button, license plates can be traced back to individuals," says director and lawyer Vincent Böhre. Privacy First previously successfully brought a case against mandatory introduction of license plates at vending machines in Amsterdam.

The paper parking permit for visitors, known as the scratch card, was abolished last month. From now on, residents of parking permit areas (Russische Buurt, Oud West, Spoorstrook and Nieuw West in Zaandam) have to purchase digital cards. Through an app, internet or phone, they have to specify which license plate on which day uses such a card. The municipality calls the digi-card more customer-friendly than the 'fraud-sensitive' scratch card. People no longer have to go to the town hall to buy tickets and visitors no longer have to walk to the car to put in a ticket. In addition, the digital card is more efficient, says a municipal spokesperson. "Enforcement is cheaper and faster." According to Zaanstad, 80,000 scratch cards were sold in 2014. No doubt it is cheaper to scan license plates with a camera than to study all those scratch cards separately, says director and lawyer Vincent Böhre of Privacy First. ,,But that is not a trade-off for invading privacy. You have the right to visit others anonymously and with this system you can almost look behind the front door. After all, with the push of a button, license plates can be traced back to individuals and you can see who visited whom and when. This is a heavy tool, while governments are obliged to use the lightest tool and promote privacy." Privacy First chairman Bas Filippini must "laugh hard" at the idea that citizens should administer themselves to take work off the hands of the municipality. "This is SO absurd and disrespectful. You become a robot in the service of the government. Protecting privacy may cost a bit, but privacy also means personal freedom. That is the foundation of democracy."


Filippini successfully filed a lawsuit against mandatory entry of license plates at parking meters in Amsterdam. According to Privacy First, this gave the municipality unwanted access to the location where the parker parks his car; while citizens are entitled to anonymity in public spaces. According to the foundation, Zaanstad's 'draconian monitoring system' also infringes on this right, the home right and the right of association. Böhre already received complaints from other municipalities with the same system. As far as he knows, it has not yet come to court cases. Filippini: "The first citizen to take legal action will receive our advice and assistance."


Old-fashioned scratch card better for privacy

The data requested by Zaanstad must be 'encrypted, anonymised and stored for as short a time as possible' anyway, says Privacy First lawyer Vincent Böhre. Otherwise, Zaanstad is 'by definition' acting in violation of privacy laws. Moreover, says the Dutch Data Protection Authority, Zaanstad must demonstrate that this form of monitoring is 'necessary for the purpose'.

According to Zaanstad, a select number of officials and enforcement officers can look into parking and visitor permit data. These are only used to check whether a license plate is registered (the parking right) and to impose parking fines. The municipality keeps the data for 30 days after the parking right expires. All communication takes place via secure connections, according to a spokesperson.

Even if Zaanstad has everything nailed down, Böhre says the data is not 100% secure. ,,You never know exactly how internet connections run and who can all be watching. For example, you don't know what the police, justice and the AIVD can trace from data streams. And the fact that the data cannot be seen by others now does not mean that it will not be in the future. The tax authorities, for example, are a body that requests data all the time. Among other things, to monitor lease car drivers; after all, parking data says a lot about someone's travel behaviour. "

Privacy First believes other control systems should be chosen. "The cynical truth is that ict companies are inventing new software for parking and lobbying behind the scenes to provide it. Such a scratch card may be old-fashioned, but it is a better guarantee of privacy."


,,I hope for a debate in the Zaanstad City Council. We are talking about a system with many snags, which should not be taken lightly. This can easily be abused. Just think what could happen to it in less democratic times or, worse, in wartime.""

Source: Dagblad Zaanstreek 11 July 2015, pp. 1, 4.