NewsDutch independent supervisor concerned about traffic lights tracking people

Dutch independent supervisor concerned about traffic lights tracking people

Modern traffic lights do more than regulate the flow of vehicles at crossroads, they also collect enormous amounts of data

The Dutch Data Protection Authority (AP), an independent regulator authority in the Low Country, has appealed to the infrastructure ministry to do something about the growing legislative grey area of having traffic lights that collect traffic data and potentially infringe on the privacy of all road users.

This is the second time that the authority has urged the ministry in question to do something about an issue that has gone under the radar, so to speak. The agency first warned the ministry in 2021 to check whether data-collecting traffic lights are in line with privacy legislation and to ensure everyone using the data collected by them is aware of the implications.

Technology moves faster than legislation

The controversial issue is indicative of a range of growing problems with the ever-increasing use of smart and data-collection technologies in our contemporary society.

These modern traffic lights connect to the mobile phones of road users and follow them to gather information about traffic volume and speed.

But the traffic lights also collect personal information about motorists, enabling them, for example, to follow a complete route including date, time and the speed the car is travelling.

Thus, these processes make it possible and easy for local councils and the transport ministry’s roads departments to track and follow specific users wherever they go, if said authorities wish to do it.

The road authorities do not appear to have properly considered the privacy risks of these traffic lights. It is also not always clear with whom exactly the data is shared, or who is responsible for collecting and using the data.

According to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), these matters must always be clear before data collection begins.

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