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16 June, 2024
 
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Transport for London accused of exploiting EU drivers for fines

Thousands of EU tourists trapped in London's penalty web

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European governments allege one of the largest data breaches in EU history as Transport for London (TfL) accused of illegally obtaining personal data for fines.

As The Guardian reports, Transport for London (TfL) has come under fire from five EU countries for allegedly unlawfully obtaining personal data of their citizens to issue fines within London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez). The Guardian reports that more than 320,000 penalties, some amounting to thousands of euros, have been issued since 2021.

The Liberal Democrats' transport spokesperson in the London assembly has demanded an immediate investigation into the matter, expressing concerns about the potential harm to the UK capital’s reputation as a welcoming destination for visitors.

Post-Brexit, the UK lacks automatic access to personal details of EU residents. Authorities in Belgium, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands have confirmed that they cannot share driver data with the UK for enforcing London’s Ulez. They claim that TfL’s contractor, Euro Parking Collection, obtained registered keeper details illegally.

In France, over 100 drivers are suing, alleging fraudulent data acquisition, while Dutch lorry drivers contest £6.5m in fines they claim were issued unlawfully.

Belgian MP Michael Freilich has accused TfL of exploiting European drivers financially, labeling them a "cash cow" by using illegitimately obtained data to issue fines.

Many penalties were issued to compliant drivers who were unaware of the requirement to register with TfL's collections agent, Euro Parking, at least 10 days before their London visit. Despite Ulez rules stating failure to register isn't a violation, some drivers faced hefty fines, some reaching five-figure sums.

Misclassification of low-emission cars as heavy goods diesel vehicles resulted in fines under the Low Emission Zone (Lez) scheme, with penalties up to £2,000 per day. Drivers complain of receiving fines after discount and appeal deadlines passed.

TfL contends that "local laws" permit sharing vehicle owner information for traffic regulation enforcement, despite lacking individual data-sharing agreements with EU countries. However, EU countries argue UK access to personal data is limited to criminal, not civil, offenses. Ulez violations are civil, raising concerns over Euro Parking's legal footing.

Euro Parking, contracted by TfL to recover foreign driver debts, has been embroiled in controversy. It's alleged that personal data from EU countries was obtained without proper disclosure for UK enforcement.

The situation prompted a criminal investigation in Belgium after a court bailiff was accused of sharing drivers' details with Euro Parking. Despite TfL's initial denial, evidence revealed fines issued to Belgians post-Brexit, sparking inquiries into data acquisition methods.

Campaigners accuse Euro Parking of circumventing data protection rules, while investigations in various EU countries underscore concerns over data privacy breaches.

Calls for urgent investigations and clarity on enforcement procedures are mounting, highlighting potential reputational damage to London's tourism sector if left unresolved. Caroline Pidgeon, a Lib Dem London assembly member, emphasizes the necessity of addressing the issue promptly to safeguard London's welcoming image.

[With information sourced from The Guardian]

TAGS
Cyprus  |  transport  |  London  |  drivers  |  fines  |  EU  |  tourists

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