Various regional dailies, 29 & 31 Aug 2013: 'Big brother rides along'
“Unnoticed, a car is frequently photographed, filmed or registered while driving through the Netherlands. The tax authorities in particular play a notable role.
Those who are alone in the car often feel so uninhibited that they dare to pick their nose unashamedly. An unjustified feeling of 'being alone', it turns out. Because during the drive, as a motorist, you are imperceptibly watched all the time.
How often is a car flashed, filmed or otherwise registered while driving from, say, Den Helder to Maastricht? There is no overall picture of who is watching you, says a spokeswoman for the Dutch Data Protection Authority. When reports are made, it is considered on a case-by-case basis whether privacy is at stake. Privacy First lawyer Vincent Böhre also does not dare to say how often you are 'in the picture' during the sample ride. He does have an estimate: "I think between a hundred and two hundred times."
Route checks, 'ordinary' speed cameras, camera cars of the Tax Administration and so-called ANPR (automatic license plate recognition) cameras are all organised by the government. So is the camera that 'scans' for the State Police at border crossings to see if suspicious cars are racing past. License plate recognition has been used to keep motorists out of red light districts. At roadworks, speeding drivers see their license plate light up on a roadside sign saying: you are speeding. Business owners can also do something about it.
There are cameras at petrol stations. Parking garages increasingly work with license plate recognition. The internet is full of companies offering license plate registration for company security, for example.
Route control, in particular, scans many cars. The cameras measure a car's average speed. Those who drive too fast are fined. But to measure that, at the first measurement point, the number plate has to be 'just scanned'. Böhre: "They say that this data is immediately thrown away if there is no offence. But nobody knows for sure whether that actually happens."
ANPR data is also formally destroyed within 24 hours. However, practice is more recalcitrant. The system with cameras along several highways was devised to quickly spot stolen or wanted cars. Only in case of a 'hit' are data passed on to the police. All other information has to go into the bin. At least, for now. There is a bill to broaden the rules so that data is kept for four weeks.
By also using route control cameras as ANPR cameras, even more information will come in. That way, after a crime, or if children are missing, for example, it can be checked whether a suspicious car drove past the camera. The extension of the rules leads to opposition from the Dutch Data Protection Authority and organisations like Privacy First. "It is a dilemma. We are for security, but with safeguards for privacy," says Böhre.
Although data should be formally destroyed, this often does not happen. The Tax Authority plays a notable role in this. The service entered into a covenant with the National Police Services Agency (KLPD), which forwards all data to the Tax Administration on a one-to-one basis. Useful for checking whether a truck has a Eurovignette, and whether the 'test drive' with the dealer's special green number plates is not just a visit to grandma.
Those who think these are small-scale checks are wrong. The Inland Revenue alone receives 44 million records annually through the KLPD. Of these, 15.5 million are "fiscally relevant", a spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance tells us. Ultimately, 7 million data remain that the Tax Authority keeps because they are important for supervision. Which data are these? Well, for example, the license plates of leased cars racing by. If the owner has promised not to drive the car privately, data is kept for up to five years so that it can be juxtaposed with the driver's accounts afterwards. "You see a sliding scale," argues Böhre of Privacy First. "Data is now stored with the tax authorities anyway. You will see that later they will also be used by others. The security service, for example. Because that also has a lot of right to access."
[Also], the tax authorities are seizing the opportunity to demand data from 'ordinary' companies to check third-party tax returns. Those ordinary companies often have to adhere to less strict privacy rules than governments that record license plate data. Every business camera can be a source for the Tax Authority, the Finance spokesperson acknowledges. The service would then have to demonstrate usefulness and necessity. It doesn't take much to do that, Professor Zwenne stated earlier. Consequence: big brother is everywhere. Courtesy of both government and business. Driving undetected in the Netherlands is virtually impossible. So keep that finger out of the nose."
Source: BN/DeStem, Eindhovens Dagblad, Twentsche Courant Tubantia, De Stentor, Zwolse Courant, Zutphen Dagblad, Sallands Dagblad, Nieuw Kamper Dagblad, Gelders Dagblad, De Gelderlander, Dagblad Flevoland, Deventer Dagblad, Brabants Dagblad, Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant, 29 August 2013. Also appeared in abridged form in Noordhollands Dagblad, Leidsch Dagblad, IJmuider Courant, Haarlems Dagblad, Gooi- en Eemlander, Alphen.cc & Almere Today, 31 August 2013.