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NRC Handelsblad, 25 February 2017: 'Tax authorities may not use license plate data'

The Inland Revenue is no longer allowed to use data on lease drivers, obtained from police cameras, for fines, according to the Supreme Court.

At least three billion licence plate images are received annually by the Tax Authority from vehicles on Dutch roads, but since Friday they have been largely worthless. The images are transmitted directly from hundreds of police license plate cameras. An ideal means to track the routes of a quarter of a million motorists who have reported to the Tax Authority that they do not use their business car privately. But also a gross invasion of privacy, for which there is no adequate legal basis, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

As a lease driver, you declare to have driven less than 500 kilometres per year privately, but the cameras signalled your car in places that do not match your trip records? Then until now, you may have been screwed, based on the license plate photos. This practice must now stop, according to the ruling.

Three lease drivers had objected to additional charges imposed on them based on the license plate images. They consider the systematic monitoring of their travel movements a violation of their privacy. In this, the Supreme Court agrees with them. "After all, this is not about one or a few observations in public spaces, but about the systematic collection, recording, processing and storing of data on vehicle movements at various locations in the Netherlands for years," the Supreme Court said in a press release.

In such a case, European law requires a precise legal basis, which is lacking in the Netherlands. This will require the drafting of a new law arguing why the invasion of privacy is necessary. That could take years, if such a law ever comes about.

Does this now mean that all those lease car drivers who were issued an additional tax assessment based on license plate images can reclaim money? "No," says tax lawyer Clemens Meerts, who assisted two of the three lease drivers who objected. "The additional charges of people who did not object have acquired formal legal force. There is nothing more to do about that."

This is confirmed by a spokesperson for the Inland Revenue. Who informs that the tax authority is looking for other ways to monitor motorists on a large scale. The spokesperson also says that the tax authority has several possibilities to monitor lease drivers. "For example, with location data based on fines by the Central Judicial Collection Agency."

The Inland Revenue also uses the billions of licence plate images to see which suspended vehicles are still driving around and to track down people with tax debts. It is highly questionable whether the images can still be used for that purpose. New lawsuits could also put an end to that.

Privacy First, a privacy protection organisation, welcomes the Supreme Court ruling. Privacy First files lawsuits against route controls that measure speeding. "With route controls, the travel movements of all motorists are recorded and stored in police databases. There is no specific legal basis for this either, as required by the Supreme Court," stated director Vincent Böhre. He hopes Friday's ruling will also eliminate route controls."

Source: NRC Handelsblad, Saturday 25 February 2017, Economics section, p. 10. Also available online at