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Are UK Motorists Being Spied On?

Here in the UK we take the privacy of our personal data very seriously, which is more than can be said for some private companies or government agencies who either dispense it, for a fee, to people or organisations who say they need it, or, they lose it in parks and public areas. Now, it seems, over in the Netherlands in 2011, similar information has been sold for profit. The culprit was TomTom, the sat-nav people. They have been caught supplying customers’ driving data to the police who use it to help catch speeding drivers. The data, including historical speed, has been sold to local and regional governments to help police set traps. TomTom are very sorry, apparently. They thought the information was being used to improve traffic safety and reduce bottlenecks. Yeah, right. As more and more smartphones offer GPS navigation services so TomTom has been forced to compensate for loss of profit by increasing sales in other areas, including traffic data. So not for traffic safety reasons at all, then.

Last year no less a person than Jack Straw, the former Justice Secretary, stated that the British Police sold details of traffic accidents to lawyers of the ambulance chasing variety after meeting with the Association of British Insurers. Naturally, the police strenuously deny this. Mr Straw went on to claim that one police force had trousered as much as £1.3m in 2008/9. The cops say that this is money raised from vehicle recovery companies. Who can say? What does appear to be true is that the referrals system works on the basis of mutual back scratching that motorists pay for in their overheated premiums – and that’s before we consider the unseemly shuffling of our personal information. There should be a proper system in place to prevent police officers, health professionals and mechanics allegedly passing on personal accident details.

One aspect of the data fiasco that is known is that the DVLA certainly do sell on personal information. They state that it is allowed if the request has reasonable cause, but they are not too specific about what this constitutes. It certainly seems to include private parking companies and clampers. It is also true that the DVLA chose Experian as a commercial partner. Experian are, amongst other things, a credit reference agency. Make your own mind up. In any event, how can a Government department have a commercial partner? The latest announcement from the DVLA concerns the paper section of your driving licence. BY 2015, this is to be done away with and the related info is to be stored on a database of Britain’s 44m drivers, including details of any points or endorsements. It appears, although it is yet to be confirmed, that employers and car rental companies could get access through a portal set up for the purpose. Presumably for a fee. The DVLA have said that, whatever they finally decide, your data will be safe and secure. The answer that springs immediately to mind is: Ha!

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