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On 24 March 2022, the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour (AK Europa) published a position paper on the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) in road transport. The paper raises concerns about data protection in response to the European Commission’s proposal amending Directive 2010/40/EU which provides the framework for ITS regulation in the EU.

At the crossroad of information technologies and transport engineering, ITS allows the collection, storage and dissemination of real-time traffic information in a way that benefits both commercial users and the general public. It aims to provide innovative services relating to different modes of transport, such as real-time parking management, seats availability in public transports or traffic light scheduling algorithms. Their design enables the use of transport infrastructure in a safer, more efficient and ‘smarter’ way.

Although ITS may refer to all modes of transport, the directive 2010/40/EU narrowed their scope to the field of road transport and its connections with other modes of transport. It established a framework for developing technical specifications in certain areas, with the aim of ensuring the interoperability that is required for efficient and effective exchange of data. On 14th December 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal on changes to the directive, together with proposals on Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T), urban mobility as well as an action plan to promote long-distance and cross-border rail passenger transport. More specifically, the proposal lays the foundations for mandatory collection and better availability of important data to provide ITS services.

In its position paper, AK Europa, a legal body representing the interests of about 3.8 million workers in Austria, stresses that the EU General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) does not offer sufficient protection for employees and consumers when it comes to the exchange and utilisation of data from these systems. In its current form, GDPR stipulates that the use of anonymous data shall be encouraged ‘where appropriate’. But even when data is anonymised, machine learning applications can be used to identify people based on vehicle data such as mobility patterns.

Linking data to individuals opens the floodgates to extensive processing of consumers' data for targeted advertising. From a professional driver point of view, these systems can be equated to surveillance technologies and lead to violations of human dignity and workers’ rights. AK Europa is calling for more clarity and better protection through sector-specific provisions in future ITS applications, for example in the case of access to in-vehicle data. Direct in-vehicle access to data means that any third-party service provider would have direct and full access to the data inside a running vehicle in an uncontrolled way.

AK Europa also stressed that the Artificial Intelligence Act transparency and documentation requirements are insufficient and shall be complemented by the principles of co-determination and veto rights for employees and their interest groups. Furthermore, AK Europa criticises the exclusion of consumer rights issues with regard to safety and security, meaning that liability is ultimately borne by consumers. More generally, AK Europa considers that the Commission’s view on ITS is too technology-centric and fails to recognize the potential flaws and failures of many applications. ‘To achieve truly sustainable and intermodal solutions, ITS must be embedded in a broad policy and regulatory framework’.

According to Aída Ponce Del Castillo, senior researcher at the ETUI, ‘one recurring problem identified throughout the European Commission’s digital proposals is the fact that employment is systematically overlooked. The focus is on the market and not on protecting workers’ rights’.