A fine of 600,000 euros for Wi-Fi tracking for the municipality of Enschede

Measure the busy city center

In 2017, the municipality of Enschede decided to measure the busyness in the city center using sensors. The municipality hired a company that specializes in counting passers-by. Measuring boxes in the shopping streets picked up the WiFi signals from the mobile phones of people passing by. Everyone’s phone was registered separately, with a unique code.

Counting becomes tracking

By counting how many telephones there are at a given time around a measuring box, you know how busy it is. If you keep track of which telephone passes which measuring box over a longer period of time, this ‘counting’ changes into tracking people. An investigation by the AP at the municipality of Enschede shows that this was the case. The privacy of citizens was therefore not properly guaranteed, because they could be tracked without this being necessary.

‘Not the intention’

It was not the municipality’s intention to track individuals. And the AP has also found no evidence that this has happened. But deploying Wi-Fi tracking that makes this possible is in itself a serious violation of the GDPR privacy law.

‘Citizens’ privacy must come first’

“If you can follow people on their phone, that is very bad,” says AP vice president Monique Verdier. ‘Because everyone has the right to walk the streets freely and unobserved. Without the government or another party being able to watch or record what you are doing. That suits our free and open society. It is not intended that you can follow people which shop, doctor, church or mosque they visit. That is private and it must remain private. So that people can be themselves without feeling inhibited by possible registration. A municipality must put this fundamental right of its residents first. To measure crowds in the city center, a system must count people. Don’t follow ‘, says Verdier.

People follow

The municipality and two companies involved had access to the data. Verdier: ‘With that data you could follow people through the city center of Enschede. At a quiet moment you can see exactly who belongs to which code. Or look at a pattern: does someone arrive at the same place at 8 a.m. every day? And does she or he leave at 5 pm? Then it is someone who works there. ‘ The violation started in May 2018. The intervention of the AP prompted the municipality to stop Wi-Fi tracking on May 1, 2020.

Wi-Fi tracking usually prohibited

The use of WiFi tracking is subject to strict requirements and in most cases prohibited. ‘Because this technique affects people’s lives so much, you can only use it in extreme cases,’ says Verdier.


‘Municipalities are allowed to process personal data via WiFi tracking in some situations, for example if this is necessary for their statutory task. But if the AP finds that a municipality or company is unlawfully using WiFi tracking, there is a chance of a hefty fine, ‘says Verdier.

Advice AP

Companies and municipalities can find more information about the use of WiFi tracking on the AP website. The AP advises municipalities to re-examine their proposed or current projects with WiFi tracking.


The municipality of Enschede has lodged an objection against the fine. “We feel unjustly punished for something that we did not intend and which did not actually happen,” said Mayor Onno van Veldhuizen of Enschede on Thursday in response to the fine.

‘We are blindfolded’

‘Guaranteeing the privacy of our visitors to the city center has been a condition from the start. Visitor counts are necessary to measure the effect of investments and policy on the attractiveness, liveability and safety of your city. The past year has shown that being able to monitor the hustle and bustle in your city is more topical than ever, and we are blindfolded, ‘says Van Veldhuizen.

A fine of 600,000 euros for Wi-Fi tracking for the municipality of Enschede
Source link A fine of 600,000 euros for Wi-Fi tracking for the municipality of Enschede

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