Privacy Advisor

Global Privacy Dispatches- Netherlands- License Plate Recognition System

July 1, 2008

By Richard van Staden ten Brink, CIPP

Minister of Internal Affairs and Information Commissioner Clash Over Automatic License Plate Recognition System


In an effort to combat organized crime, the police department of the municipality of Zwolle has recently started using an automatic license plate recognition system. The system reads and stores the license plate numbers of all vehicles driving on highways in and around Zwolle and matches the license plate numbers against a database of license plates of organized crime suspects. If a match occurs, the system automatically notifies the police department's criminal intelligence unit.

Other Dutch municipalities are also considering implementation of the system. If the system were to be used on a nationwide scale, it would be possible to track organized crime suspects throughout the Netherlands.

The Dutch Information Commissioner Jacob Kohnstamm is of the opinion that the use of the system is not justified and, also, is an ineffective method for criminal investigations. According to Kohnstamm, it does not make sense to create a "giant haystack" of the general public's license plate numbers in order to track a limited number of organized crime suspects.

However, the Dutch Minister of Internal Affairs, Guusje Ter Horst, agrees with the use of the system. According to Ter Horst, the privacy of the general public is not in danger, because the license plate numbers of the general public are only stored for a period of three days. "If you want to catch criminals, you sometimes have to resort to unorthodox methods," Ter Horst said.
This fall, the DPA will start an investigation of the lawfulness of the use of automatic license recognition systems for law enforcement purposes.

Richard van Staden ten Brink, CIPP is advocaat at De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek in Amsterdam. He may be reached at richard@vanstadentenbrink.