Volkskrant.nl, 2 April 2014: 'Camera drones allowed - what does it mean for you?'
“A large majority of the House of Representatives yesterday approved a bill giving municipalities more powers of camera surveillance. Municipalities can now also use drones. What does this mean for you?
Camera surveillance has been around for a long time. What exactly is new?
Currently, municipalities are only allowed to apply camera surveillance at predefined locations and with fixed cameras. This applies, for example, to nightlife areas where nuisance is common. The location of the cameras must be determined in advance. Drones are currently only used for investigative purposes, such as finding cannabis plantations. The police are already allowed to use mobile cameras, so this will also apply to municipalities.
The bill proposed by ministers Ivo Opstelten (Justice) and Ronald Plasterk (Interior) states that municipalities will now be allowed to decide for themselves what form of camera surveillance they use. Besides the fixed cameras already common today, mobile cameras can also be used, for example using drones or cameras in helmets. In many cases, these will be cameras that can be quickly moved and easily hung on, for example, a lamppost.
But according to Vincent Böhre, privacy lawyer at the Privacy First foundation, the effectiveness of camera surveillance is unproven. 'This is evident from several studies conducted on it. We therefore believe that camera surveillance in the Netherlands is already too far out of control, and are strongly opposed to these relaxations. If such measures are not proven effective, they violate the right to privacy.'
Where can I come across such a camera?
Mobile cameras may only be used to monitor public areas. They may not be set up in such a way that they look into residential houses or otherwise "unjustifiably intrude on the privacy of citizens".
Moreover, it involves specific areas, which the mayor designates in advance. Restrictions may be placed on the size of the area in which mobile camera surveillance is applied. In any case, the intention is not to put an entire city centre or an entire municipality under mobile camera surveillance.
According to privacy lawyer Böhre, the current proposal does not sufficiently guarantee that drones will not be used indiscriminately. 'The mayor can largely decide for himself where and when drones are used. One might wonder whether this does not put too much power in the hands of mayors. The municipal council also has something to say about this.'
Am I being secretly spied on now?
The proposal states that it must be known to the public that it can be monitored. This can be done, for example, 'by posting signs indicating that cameras are being used in the area concerned'. But: 'Informing the public, however, does not mean that the cameras themselves must be visibly hung or that people must be able to see that the cameras are in operation.'
Böhre: 'Research has shown that placing signs warning citizens of camera surveillance works better preventively than the camera surveillance itself. So we sometimes joke that the municipality would be better off just putting up the signs and omitting the cameras.'
Is privacy still taken into account?
Citizens have the right to be left alone, ministers acknowledge. If there is a 'pressing social need', this may be deviated from, for instance if national or public security is at stake or if criminal offences are committed. The ministers point out that there must be proportionality: 'There must be a reasonable relationship between the severity of the intrusion and the gravity of the interest served by the intrusion.'
'In general, it can be said that - because of the wider possibilities and the inherent privacy dangers - the deployment of moving and flying cameras can be considered a heavier tool than the deployment of statically positioned cameras,' the bill states. 'For this reason, it is obvious that the deployment of moving cameras and, a fortiori, flying cameras are less likely to pass the proportionality test than the deployment of - nail fixed or not - static cameras.'
According to Böhre of Privacy First, this is not nearly enough, and the proposal should be taken off the table. 'We are hopeful that the Senate will still reject the proposal or at least tone it down considerably. We think the Senate members will be critical, though. They have a better track record when it comes to privacy. At the House of Representatives, the battle may have been lost, but at the Senate, we will continue to lobby against this proposal.'"