Privacy watchdog concerned by plan to snap drivers using GSM
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Privacy watchdog concerned by plan to snap drivers using GSM

© Ed Poor/Wikimedia

The data protection authority (DPA) has expressed concern over a plan by traffic institute VIAS to use cameras to trap drivers using a mobile phone while driving.

Last week VIAS announced the successful conclusion of a test project in Antwerp to look at the results of using cameras to catch drivers in the act of texting or calling while driving, which is against the law.

The camera trap consists of two photographs: one of the car’s number plate, and one taken through the windscreen to attempt to identify the offending behaviour. The photos are taken by unmanned cameras, with any suspicious photos then passed to a human police officer who must determine if the behaviour shown is actually illegal use of a mobile phone.

Vias has always stressed that the final adjudication of whether there was an offence is always the responsibility of a police officer, whose judgement is fed back into the system to allow the algorithm to effectively learn from its mistakes.
All photos rejected by the camera and by the police officer are automatically deleted.

VIAS said the pilot project proved the system was “very accurate,” and recommended it be adopted in Belgium. It is currently operating in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The institute, in its report on the trial, recognises that an amendment to a 2002 law would be required in order for the camera images to be used by the police.

In the weeks to come, proposed amendments to the law for this purpose are expected to be presented to parliament, and if they proceed they must come before the DPA for its remarks.

I can’t comment on that for the moment,” said David Stevens, spokesperson for the DPA when approached by De Standaard.

We have yet to study the texts and we will certainly look at them constructively. Using cameras and processing the data for new purposes is always a sort of invasion of privacy. But if there are fewer road casualties in return, we have to make the balance.”

VIAS estimates there are 30 road deaths a year and 2,500 injuries as a result of using a phone while driving. In addition, about 100,000 drivers receive a fine.

But the VIAS test itself could be grounds for complaint, he said. The fact that the police were not involved, and that it was ‘only’ a test is of no importance: unless VIAS can show good reason for having carried out the test, legal sanctions could follow.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times