Lawyers for some 100 France-based drivers who were sent heavy fines for entering Ulez and Lez low-emissions zones in London are hoping for action from the French public prosecutor over accusations that their data was accessed illicitly.
France’s official data protection agency Cnil is also looking into the subject and says the same is under way in some neighbouring countries.
Mystery remains over how debt agency got driver details
Lawyers from Woog & associés in Paris submitted complaints on behalf of drivers with French plates issued fines by debt collection agency EPC on behalf of Transport for London (TfL).
They related to driving in the London zones without pre-registering on a website and/or in vehicles not meeting low-emissions requirements.
The drivers say the registration rule was insufficiently publicised.
There is also mystery over how EPC obtained their details as, since Brexit, there is no driver data-sharing agreement between the UK and France or the EU.
‘Very heavy fines’ could be levied on TfL/EPC if found guilty
Drivers who made regular UK trips for work or family reasons have in some cases amassed fines of thousands of pounds.
Avocat Romain Binelli said: “There are Britons in France who want to go and see family in the UK – or French people who visit family working there – who were not well informed and in some cases received handfuls of fines, 10 or more in the same envelope.”
Their case involves an accusation of illicit collection of personal data and illegally holding and accessing such data.
They have not heard recently of new fines being sent to France but are still accepting clients to the group case, which involves a fixed fee, plus a percentage if damages are awarded.
“Very heavy fines” could be levied on TfL/EPC if found guilty, Mr Binelli said.
In the meantime, the lawyers advise their clients not to pay.
“Our case is being studied by a judge from the public prosecutor’s office and we presume there may be an official judicial inquiry, but we do not yet know what the outcome will be – for example, if they will be calling in people from TfL or EPC or if they will close the file.”
Expect judge to state intentions for the case before summer
The case was officially recorded in summer last year and it usually takes around six months before they decide how it will be dealt with, the lawyers said.
Avocat Coralline Manier said: “There is no exact date but we would expect them to state in the first half of 2024 what they are going to do.”
However, the case could take another three years to resolve.
The same accusations have also been lodged with Cnil.
“They are starting to study the case,” said Ms Manier.
“They have the power to issue administrative fines. They also told us they are aware that there are equivalent bodies in other countries that have received similar complaints, notably in Belgium. There will no doubt be exchanges between them.”
TfL stated EPC is required to follow “relevant data protection legislation” and that it had not been “prevented” from accessing driver data in EU countries.
It said drivers of foreign-licensed cars should check registration obligations to avoid any fines.
EU countries to share more driving information
While no UK-France data-sharing exists for drivers since the UK left an EU scheme, the EU is looking to extend its internal sharing to a total of 17 driving offences, up from eight.
It is proposed that this could include ‘hit and run’ incidents, not stopping at crossings, dangerous overtaking or parking, going over a continuous white line, or even driving with too many people in the car.