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NRC Handelsblad, 27 June 2015: 'No one will soon be able to move around unseen'

Excerpts from weekly column "De Rechtsstaat" by Folkert Jensma:

"Early this month, I spoke to someone from the leadership of the National Police. In the not too distant future, 80 per cent of all investigative information will come from "sensors", he believes. Are police officers prepared for that? Would that wave of data from cameras, receivers, transmitters, probes and keyboards be legally safeguarded? How long it may be kept, who may access it, when exactly, for how long and for what purpose it may be collected? And how serious does the threat have to be to be allowed to collect them at all? He was honest about it. He did not think the police are ready for it. Technology is moving too fast for that. And the police too slow.

Behold the digital rule of law in which every citizen produces a cloud of information through which the state pulls a landing net. Or is continuously connected to it, so that the offender can be targeted. Look at freight transport. There are already systems that use detection loops, laser, camera and heat measurement to check weight, load, tyres (profile as well as pressure) and brakes. Only if something is wrong, the motor cop goes out. So goodbye to spot checks - welcome one hundred per cent enforcement. That motorbike cop will soon be replaced by a camera, by the way.

We are experiencing the last vestiges of the time when a citizen could move around anonymously. All things digital are vulnerable to being watched, listened to, read and felt. Everything is becoming digital. Everything gets connected to the internet, thanks to faster chips, unlimited data storage and faster search engines. Surveillance is moving along and cautiously finding its way.

At the end of May, the NOS News presented the RFID chip for license plates. Readable from a short distance and therefore a full proof guarantee that car and number plate really belong together. Stolen and cloned number plates would then be history. Out of just under 8 million cars, this would occur about 40,000 times. The news item closed with the sentence that the government will introduce the chip next year. That is yet to be decided, the minister informed the House. But industry and enforcers have been calling for chipped number plates since 2011. So they will come, it seems to me.

Since then, a wave of privacy protests erupted, with De Telegraaf leading the way, which for the occasion downplayed crime. That newspaper sees the chipped license plate as an anklet for every Dutch citizen. The key question is whether we should indeed attach weak transmitters to all 8 million cars because 40,000 license plates are used to commit crimes. You name it. The advocacy group Privacy First, which acts as a scare tactic in these issues, believes the license plate chip fits into a larger government plan to track the movements of all cars via highway 'portals'. And the system would tie into a European data structure in which member states would make all their car information exchangeable. With this, the EU surveillance state is a reality and no one can move around unseen or anonymously anymore. Or drive too fast, too close together, too long or too polluting, without being felt or seen.


It also begs the question of why license plates should exist at all. A readable, linked chip will do; the traffic network of loops, cameras and sensors will do the rest. Besides, why don't we immediately equip cars with a transponder, like planes, that permanently transmits location data? Then everything would be solved - central traffic control and enforcement would be up for grabs. Looked at that way, a license plate chip with a transmission range of only 20 metres is really a very privacy-friendly solution. Do those then?"

Source: NRC Handelsblad, 27 June 2015. The full version is available online at