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Little protection from the dangers of "mass surveillance"

Little protection from the dangers of “mass surveillance”


Since data collected in public places is not about individuals, but rather about groups of people (such as a neighbourhood), European laws often do not apply. Privacy law protects only individuals, explains Associate Professor of Information Technology Law Ritsima van Eyck, who researched the topic in his book. PhD research at the University of Groningen. “Implementing traditional human rights is very difficult here.”

street or neighborhood

Classic human rights protect the individual, but this set of data focuses on a street or neighborhood. “Then the group could be at a disadvantage,” van Eyck says. Or that a person is stigmatized because he is part of a group. But not a single person was directly affected. As a result, there appears to be nothing legally wrong. It’s a kind of no-man’s land.


The municipalities themselves also have difficulty deciding what is and is not allowed. In April, for example, Enschede was fined by the Dutch Data Protection Authority (AP) because the municipality used a form of WiFi tracking in the city center which, according to the regulator, is not allowed. I entered the worshipers objection He wondered if the principle of equality had not been violated, because Enschede was fined as the two hundred municipalities calculated in a similar manner had not been fined.


Van Eyck concluded that two necessary and appropriate legal instruments were missing that could provide protection against such surveillance. Data protection impact assessments should be strengthened and made mandatory. “Secondly, data protection rights should also protect groups, as they are most affected by mass surveillance in public places.”

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People participate in this type of observation because there is a reward, because they see it as their civic duty, or because of the aspects of the game that make participation interesting. For example, Van Eck researched the Automon app, a game in which participants take pictures of license plates to see if they have been stolen. The more stolen cars are found, the higher the score and more money can be earned.