We are often asked about the law when using trackers - both on people or more often on vehicles.
The law in the UK that relates to tracking falls under the category of processing personal data and that is governed by the Data Protection Act 1998. Subject to specific constraints and requirements vehicle trackers are considered legal and should generally be used to ensure driver safety.
The Data Protection Act 1998
Tracking devices will usually be collecting data about the individual, not just the vehicle itself. As well as the tracker location, a wealth of information, such as driving behaviour may be recorded which has implications under the Data Protection Act.
Under this Act, people have the right to know what information is being held about them and the purpose for which it will be used. For this reason, collecting data covertly is considered to be in breach of the law. The Data Protection Act 1998 concerns data which is classified as personal data (the latest definition of this was adopted in June 2007). The Act is highly complex and can be difficult to interpret; it is common for individuals, companies and organisations to be unsure about its intricacies. However the Act is underpinned by the concept of “permission”. Fundamentally, personal data cannot be processed unless the person it concerns has given permission.
Essentially personal data is data that relates to an individual who is alive and who can be identified from the data, or from a combination of that data and any other information that is held by, or may come into the possession of, the data controller.
Relevance to vehicle tracking
The relevance of the Data Protection Act 1998 to vehicle tracking involves two principles: whether tracking data is personal data and whether or not permission has been granted for that data to be collected and processed.
Is vehicle tracking data personal?
If the subject can be identified from the data, or from a combination of that data and any other information held by the data controller, then it is personal data. Apart from some special exceptions, this is usually the case as the vehicle’s movements can be linked directly to a specific driver.
Has permission been given?
It is illegal to track vehicles if the subject is unaware that he is being tracked, but as long as the subject has agreed to it taking place and has consented to it either explicitly or implicitly, for instance if it is part of an employment contract, and the data is used only for its intended and stated purpose (e.g. to improve driver performance and efficiency) then vehicle tracking is permitted by the Act.
The basic principles of the act call for: fair and lawful processing of the data; its use must be only for its specified purpose; it must be relevant to that purpose, accurate and up to date; it should not be retained for a longer period than is necessary; measures should be taken to protect it against unlawful use; and it must not be transferred to countries which do not provide adequate levels of data protection.
To conclude, personal data can only be processed if at least one of the following applies:
• The person concerned must have consented to the process • There is a contractual or legal obligation to process the data • It is necessary in order to protect the vital interests of the subject