European Court: violation of privacy in Dutch case of identity abuse

In a judgment published on 14 February 2012 – Romet v. The Netherlands – the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for private life). The applicant’s complaint concerned the failure by the Dutch authorities to invalidate his driving license as soon as it was reported missing. The applicant argued that this failure to act had enabled others to abuse his identity.

The applicant, Steven Benito Romet, is a Dutch national who lives in Maastricht. On 3 November 1995 he reported to the police that his driving license had been stolen in September of that year. In March 1997, the authorities issued him with a new driving license, shortly after he applied for it. During the intervening period the relevant authorities registered 1,737 motor vehicles in his name, without receiving his agreement beforehand. As a consequence, the applicant was prosecuted on many occasions for various offences and accidents related to the cars and required to pay vehicle tax on them. He was also fined and detained for failure to comply with administrative orders which were the result of offences not committed by him. He lost his welfare benefits too, as the authorities found that his financial means were ample given the large number of cars registered in his name.

In the course of 1996, the applicant turned to various authorities asking them to rectify the situation, to no avail. In 2004, he also appealed to the Amsterdam Court of Appeal seeking the prosecution of those responsible for the malicious vehicle registrations in his name. His appeal was dismissed: the Amsterdam Court found that too much time had passed for a meaningful investigation to be possible. Furthermore, the applicant challenged the registrations of the motor vehicles in his name, asking the Government Road Transport Agency to annul them retrospectively, but was met with a refusal.

In its judgment, the European Court of Human Rights observed that the failure to invalidate the applicant’s driving license as soon as he reported it missing, which made abuse of his identity by other people possible, was an interference with his private life which fell within the scope of Article 8. The applicant had reported his driving license stolen on 3 November 1995. Yet the applicant’s driving license was invalidated only on 14 March 1997, when the applicant obtained a replacement. After that date, apparently, no further vehicles were unlawfully registered in the applicant’s name. The Court held:

‘Plainly, therefore, swift administrative action to deprive a driving license of its usefulness as an identity document was possible and practicable. The Government have not satisfied the Court that such action could not have been taken immediately after the applicant reported that he had lost possession and control of the document. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.’

The Court held that the Netherlands was to pay Mr Romet € 9,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.


Press Release European Court of Human Rights, 14 February 2012

Judgment European Court of Human Rights 14 February 2012, Romet v The Netherlands, appl. no. 7094/06