Capturing licence plates: police-citizen interaction apps from an EU data protection perspective

Presented with Jonida Milaj at the TiLTing perspectives conference.
Tilburg University, the Netherlands
17 May 2019

In October 2017 a Pokémon Go-like smartphone app called ‘Automon’ was revealed as one of several new initiatives to increase the public’s contribution and engagement in police investigation activities in the Netherlands. Automon is designed in the form of a game that instigates participants to photograph license plates to find out if a vehicle is stolen. The participants in the game score points for each license plate photographed, and in case a vehicle results indeed stolen they also qualify for a financial reward. In addition, when someone reports that a vehicle has recently been stolen, game participants that are in the vicinity receive a push notification and are tasked to search for that specific vehicle and license plate.

This paper studies the example of the Automon app and contributes to the existing debate on crowdsourced surveillance and the involvement of individuals in law enforcement activities from a legal point of view. It analyses for the first time the lawfulness of initiatives that proactively require the involvement of individuals in law enforcement activities and confronts them with the data protection standards of the European Union (EU). It is found that the Automon app design fails to comply with the new standards and any new legal intervention to regulate the field must be introduced at EU level.

See further our publication of the same name.