University wants to turn smart cameras back on (at the highest security level)
The Executive Board wants to turn the camera’s at the entrances of the lecture halls back on. In late 2021, the cameras were turned off following Mare's reporting and several protests. According to the Executive Board, measures have since been taken to correct the privacy and security issues. The University Council will discuss the plan in the coming month.
Mark Reid
Friday 13 January 2023

It was already known that the cameras’ various security problems had been remedied, but according to the Board, the so-called data protection impact assessment (DPIA) has now also concluded that the privacy concerns regarding their use have been eliminated. This afternoon, the Board sent the results of the assessment to the University Council and Mare.

According to the DPIA, most privacy risks can be mitigated through careful use. Martijn Ridderbos, Vice-chairman of the Executive Board, told Mare that the cameras will be kept at the highest privacy level and clear agreements will be made with the supplier. Ridderbos: ‘I think these measures ensure that privacy is well and truly safeguarded. Just as good as for alternative systems, maybe even better, and we can take more accurate measurements.’

Two sets of eyes

Under the new agreements, the supplier will manage the password used to change settings, but cannot access the cameras to actually change them without the university’s permission.  As such, two sets of eyes are required at all times to make changes. There will also be annual audits in order to keep an eye on privacy risks.

'It's not the intention to start tracking persons individually’

As part of the assessment, Professor of Law and Digital Technology Bart Schermer also examined the system and approved it for use.

Residual risk

The DPIA did identify a so-called residual risk to the use of the cameras, but the Board is willing to take this risk. For technical reasons, it is difficult to turn the system off, which means that counting in the lecture halls will continue during the evenings and nights. As a result, employees who are in the buildings alone during the night, such as cleaners or porters, can be tracked individually.

‘Naturally it’s not the intention to start tracking persons individually’, Ridderbos said. ‘That’s not what the tool is for and it won’t be used for those purposes. I’d very much like to turn those things off at night, but technically, that’s complicated because then you’d have to restart and calibrate them in the morning. That’s the trade-off we have to make. According to the DPIA, this is not an insurmountable risk.’

Before the decision to turn the cameras back on becomes final, the University Council will first issue its advice on the plan. According to Ridderbos, the Executive Board will take that advice very seriously. ‘We’re asking for the University Council’s advice for a reason. We want the university community to support the use of this tool as well. I cannot say how a negative advice would affect the decision, because we have to consider the grounds on which that advice is based. Ideally, I would like for us to agree.’

If the Council’s advice on the plans is positive, the cameras will be turned back on later this year, but not before April, according to Ridderbos.