Tuesday 21 March 2023

Enschede council fined for snooping on citizens via their phones

Photo: Depositphotos.com

The Dutch privacy watchdog has fined Enschede local council for tracking its residents using their mobile phones to keep an eye on how busy parts of the city centre are.

In total, the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens has fined the council €600,000 for using wifi tracking which could be traced back to individuals. This, the watchdog said, put the council in serious violation of European privacy laws.

It is the first time the AP has fined a local authority.

Wifi tracking in itself is not forbidden, AP deputy chairwoman Monique Verdier said. ‘But you’ll have to have pretty good reasons and safeguards,’ she said.

In the case of Enschede, counting people had turned into tracking their movements, Verdier said. ‘It shouldn’t be the case that people can be tracked to see which shop, doctor, church or mosque they go to. That is private and should remain private. People must be able to be themselves without feeling constrained because they might be registered.’

Enschede stopped the practice in May last year following a complaint from a resident which was then taken up by the AP. It is appealing against the fine.

Some 60 local councils in the Netherlands use wifi tracking, the Volkskrant reported two years ago. The AP hopes that the fine will induce local councils to check if they are justified in using the method and if individual privacy is guaranteed.

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