The Ulez fines scandal involves Italian police unlawfully obtaining personal information of thousands of EU drivers.
Investigations suggest that Italian authorities illegally obtained and disclosed the personal information of numerous EU drivers to the company responsible for collecting Ulez fines for Transport for London (TfL).
The data protection authority of Italy is looking into allegations from the government of Belgium that a police department, whose name has not been disclosed, abused their authority by sharing personal information of Belgian drivers with Euro Parking Collections. This company is hired by TfL to issue fines for enforcing the low emission zone (Lez) and ultra-low emission zone in London.
Officials from the Netherlands and Germany have confirmed that their databases were compromised by an individual in Italy, which has been described by a Belgian MP as the “largest violation of data and privacy in EU history.”
The claims have been rejected by TfL. They stated that Euro Parking has confirmed they did not use an Italian police department to obtain driver information.
The penalties are believed to have been given unlawfully as, post-Brexit, domestic regulations only permit the UK to obtain personal information of EU residents in cases of criminal misconduct, whereas violating Ulez regulations is considered a civil violation.
The exit of Britain from the EU has raised concerns about the methods through which TfL can ensure that foreign vehicles adhere to London’s clean air regulations.
Less than two years ago, a court bailiff in Belgium was suspended for allegedly unauthorized use of the Belgian vehicle database at the request of Euro Parking.
Caroline Pidgeon, a member of the Liberal Democrat London assembly, believes that the problem could damage London’s global reputation. She has called for TfL to halt its use of Euro Parking for issuing fines to EU citizens until they can ensure that the company’s procedures comply with the law.
She expressed concern over the methods used by TfL and its partner to gather data from EU drivers, stating that this testimony adds to the growing number of concerns.
The unauthorized collection of this data would be a severe violation and could harm both London’s image as a top tourist spot and the reputations of the mayor and TfL.
A recent report from the Guardian found that numerous British immigrants and EU citizens were incorrectly given Ulez fines, based on information from European governments. These fines, some reaching thousands of pounds, have been issued since the end of the Brexit transitional period in December 2020.
Since 2021, Euro Parking has given out over 330,000 fines, with certain fines amounting to thousands of euros.
Numerous drivers were penalized for failing to pre-register their vehicles that met emissions standards before entering London. Some were instructed to pay a daily fee of £2,000 for each day they were in the city, as their cars were mistakenly categorized as heavy diesel vehicles and incurred charges under the Lez program.
A court officer in Belgium was charged with using their authorized access to the national vehicle database to provide the personal information of over 20,000 drivers to Euro Parking. The officer is currently undergoing disciplinary action and may also face a criminal inquiry.
At first, TfL stated that they had not issued any fines to residents of Belgium since March 2022, when they were made aware of the investigations. However, a request for information by the Guardian uncovered that over 17,000 fines were actually given to Belgian drivers between March 2022 and October 2023.
In its response to the Freedom of Information request, TfL stated that the Belgian National Chamber of Judicial Officers released a notice on March 23, 2022, prohibiting the country’s vehicle registration agency, DIV, from sharing data with companies who were then passing it on to foreign authorities. [Euro Parking] has not utilized this method to obtain keeper details for Belgium-registered vehicles since the ruling. However, the ruling does not prohibit [Euro Parking] from directly obtaining keeper details from the DIV, which has been the method used for issuing penalty charge notices to Belgium-registered vehicles after March 23, 2022.
The Belgian Ministry of Transport has verified that DIV cannot share information with Euro Parking or TfL for the purpose of UK civil enforcement. It has been revealed that the company has obtained this information through an Italian police force, which has been alleged to have misused official EU data-sharing systems without disclosing its use for UK enforcement purposes.
The country of Italy has four distinct police forces that carry out various duties. The authorities in Belgium have not revealed which specific force or officers are under investigation.
Georges Gilkinet, the transport minister of Belgium, stated that it is unacceptable that privacy laws were violated. While investigations are still in progress, he has directed his department to take appropriate action against any intermediaries who illegally accessed the Belgian registration database.
The transportation department has sent a letter to the European Commission requesting additional measures to prevent misuse of privacy laws by unauthorized companies. At the same time, Belgium has instructed its embassy in London to address the problem of unlawful data collection with TfL leaders.
TfL, representing Euro Parking, has stated that it ceased requesting information on Belgian drivers for Ulez and Lez enforcement since September of last year. According to a spokesperson, any company working on their behalf must follow data protection laws. TfL works closely with EPC to ensure compliance with the contract and has measures in place if they are not fulfilled. EPC has confirmed that they did not use an Italian police department to obtain driver details.