Transport office’s plan to install GPS in private vehicles raises privacy concern issues

  • Activists say adopting new technology is a good initiative but broader consultations must be carried out
- NAYAK PAUDEL, Kathmandu

May 11, 2019-

The Department of Transport Management has started a process that makes it mandatory for vehicle owners to install global positioning system, widely known as GPS. The move, however, is not sitting well with rights activists, as they believe such a tracking system by a government agency could leave the public’s privacy vulnerable and could result in privacy breach and data misuse.

Despite this, the department, which has long been planning to install GPS in public vehicles, has said it will start installing GPS in private vehicles as well before the end of the next fiscal year.

The department says that the mandatory provision would help the department track stolen or lost vehicles and monitor traffic and vehicular movement across the country.

According to officials at the department, they have already started talks with the World Bank for financial assistance. The installation of the GPS could cost from Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 per vehicle.

“We are holding talks with consultants from the World Bank. The procurement process will start from the new fiscal year and by the end of it, we will start installing the GPS,” Kumar Prasad Dahal, director general of the department, told the Post.

“The government authorities must use new technologies, but the question arises whether the technologies are being used fairly or not,” Taranath Dahal, chairman of Freedom Forum, a civil liberty group working for freedom of expression and democracy, told the Post. “If any authority comes up with a technology to track the movement of private vehicles, they must first ensure data protection and that the data are not misused by anyone for anyone.”

Activists have also argued that government authorities should first hold talks with experts before introducing new measures or before starting a new process that could infringe upon people’s right to privacy.

“The department must gather opinions from experts in the field of technology along with those who advocate the right to privacy in order to ensure that the data can be stored in safe hands and that they won’t be misused,” advocate Sanjeeb Ghimire of Freedom Forum, told the Post. “They must also look into how other countries have accepted the technology of tracking vehicles by ensuring every individual’s privacy.”

The department, however, maintained that the data “will be in safe hands” and that the technology would be used only in special cases, such as when a vehicle is stolen or when law enforcement agency needs to track a criminal.

“Even if a law enforcement agency needs to track any vehicle, they need to receive an order from the court. Not everyone will be able to access the server,” said Kumar Prasad. “The technology will also show who has accessed the server and which vehicle the user tried to track. The use of GPS is for fair use and we will go through every aspect to ensure individuals’ privacy.”

According to the department, the main server will be kept in the department and that it would be accessible from the branches of the department and traffic police.  

Published: 12-05-2019 06:30

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