"It is not clear when the performance of ITS services will lead to the collection and processing of personal data and what are the purposes and modalities for which data processing may take place," reads a note published yesterday (22 July) by the European data protection supervisor, Peter Hustinx.
The supervisor was recently reappointed after having shown a tough approach to guaranteeing data protection for a number of increasingly sensitive issues, ranging from EU-US negotiations on plane passenger or financial data to the business model of online search engines.
Hustinx is now replicating his fierce stance for the transport sector, asking the EU institutions to clarify "the specific circumstances in which a vehicle will be tracked, strictly limiting the use of location devices to what is necessary for that purpose".
Satellite navigation systems, such as GPS, can allow the localisation of drivers and the collection of potentially sensitive information like driving habits or the journey patterns of average citizens. Growing deployment of RFID tags and sensors in transport vehicles and infrastructure also brings with it a powerful means of locating people without their prior consent.
Hustinx is also concerned by the lack of clarity over which authorities will deal with the data collected. He thus calls for the new rules to transparently define "who the data controller is" and to "ensure that location data are not disclosed to unauthorised recipients".
Brussels's push to spread smart communication technologies across transport systems is mainly aimed at tackling increased road congestion. According to figures used by the Commission, road freight is expected to increase by 55% and passenger road transport by 36% by 2020.
One direct result of this growing congestion is a subsequent increase in energy consumption, with its negative environmental impact. CO2 emissions from transport are expected to grow by 15% by 2020, according to the EU executive.