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Excessive demands by car rental companies

Reading the motoring section of the Sunday Times on the weekend, I found the following extraordinary letter to the editor from a Maurice Hyman of London


We recently booked a Volkswagen Golf hire car for a four-day break in Norfolk and arrived at the depot in London to pick it up, expecting to sign the papers and leave on our holiday.

However, the supervisor asked that we wait a moment for a few formalities.

Suddenly, and without asking, he pointed a camera at us, linked to a computer, explaining that the picture would be transferred to the database at head office, making future dealings easier. We were then required to give our fingerprints for appending to the agreement.

He explained that because there was so much identity theft these days insurance companies were insisting on these procedures.

But according to the new laws it is merely necessary to verify that the name and address are genuine — no mention is made of photographs and fingerprinting. I had difficulty believing I was in Britain!

There are a couple of issues here. The first is simply that I find these procedures to be unbelievably heavy handed. In my life, nobody has ever needed to take my fingerprints. I like it that way. I believe that rental car companies do have the right to impose conditions like this on their customers. However, if they do, I also have the right to rent my car from another company, or to not rent a car at all. Therefore, if I book a car or pay in advance, then I must be informed in advance of any such conditions. Springing them on me at the last minute when cancelling the booking and going to another car company has been made difficult and when I haven’t been informed in advance is wrong. Taking someone’s photograph for this kind of purpose without clearly informing them and giving them a chance to object is also wrong. (Of course the reason they present it to you at the last moment is to increase the hassle to you of objecting. If they mentioned it up front, they would lose business).

Finally, the strategy of blaming somebody else (often the government, but here the insurance companies) for having to take away people’s liberties seems to be becoming more and more common. It very likely is the policy of the rental company, but saying “It is all the fault of the insurance company” is a way of shifting the blame and avoiding responsibility. Probably if you ask the insurance company they will blame the car rental agency.

Presumably, if the car goes missing the rental company will share this information with the police. Even if it doesn’t, one can see lots of ways in which your fingerprints could end up in all sorts of databases. And once such databases exist, it is hard to imagine the police not ending up with access to them.

The final point is a positive one. Being photographed without being asked first and being asked to give fingerprints is something that annoys people like Maurice Hyman, sufficiently to cause him write a letter to the Sunday Times about it. (I don’t know whether he agreed to be fingerprinted. He didn’t say). Whatever may be said for that newspaper, its editors care sufficiently about such things to print the letter. My Hyman’s words were that it made him feel like he was not in Britain. Traditionally, the British people have had more civil liberties than people in many other countries, and they are proud of this and they think Britain is a better country because of this. They notice and are bothered when people try to take them away. If the government fails to take note of this, it will likely learn it the hard way.

17 comments to Excessive demands by car rental companies

  • Err, you didn’t finish the post!

  • My last sentence got chopped for some reason. I have now rewritten it.

  • A similar thing happened to me in a rather different context on Wednesday last week (i.e. the 27th August) when I flew from Edinburgh to Gatwick with EasyJet. On landing, before we left the plane, the cabin crew told us that the British Airport Authorities wanted our photos. When we left the plane, we had to walk past a video camera, stop whilst it took a photo and were then given a piece of paper explaining this procedure to us, which we had to hand back at a kiosk as we entered the arrivals hall (there was a sticker with a bar code on it…).

    Apparently, the particular pier we were arriving at was allowing departing and arriving passengers to share corridors (I did walk past a queue of people boarding a plane) and they were taking the photos to ensure that they could distinguish between departing and arriving passengers for “security purposes”! At least that was the excuse being used for this exercise. They claimed the photos would be destroyed after 24 hours and the process was in compliance with the Data Protection Act.

    I had no idea this was going to happen — I’d never been photographed like this before when flying to/within the UK (or anywhere else for that matter).

  • In the case of the car rental company, it would be easy to refuse to let them take a photo and not take the car. But what would have happened if James Hammerton had refused to have his photo taken by the airport? Would he be “deported” back to Edinburgh or thrown in jail as a suspected terrorist?

  • Guy Herbert

    This morning I had to produce two forms of ID, including one with an address, in order to hire a domestic carpet cleaning machine (est. second-hand value £20) for which there was a security deposit of £50.

    It amused me greatly that the clerk put down my details largely illegibly, and in several places wildly incorrectly. I did not correct her poor eyesight/reading–nor give in to the temptation to spell out for her something utterly misleading.

  • We have lost the battle with respect to airports. When you enter one, you are entering a semi-militarised police state where you have no rights. I would prefer this was not so, but I can live with it. However, I do not want a slippery slope to occur. Arguments along the lines of “People are willing to put up with this in airports. Therefore they are used to it and it is entirely reasonable that they should be made to put up with it at all other times as well” are very dangerous.

  • Rob Fisher asked a pertinent question, what if I’d refused? I thought about asking why they were doing it but then they handed me their official explanation (which I don’t think makes sense). I decided not to ask if I can refuse. I decided it wasn’t worth the potential hassle to ask at that point. Maybe I was being too much of a sheep. But I shall write to BAA or Gatwick airport and see what their official position is on people refusing to be photographed when they’ve already shown photographic ID at the other end of their journey…

    James

  • James,
    It will be very interesting to what BAA have to say.

  • Excuse me; to *see* what BAA have to say.

  • Mark Ellott

    Avon and Somerset police have been operating a similar scheme with local retailers. Apparently piloted in the Bluewater retail park by Kent police. When you attempt to pay for goods with a credit card, you are prompted to provide a thumb print – “to help prevent credit card fraud”.

    While the guidelines allow for refusal – as I had already filled with petrol, it was a bit late to do anything if I refused – which I did – but refuseniks may be required to provide further evidence of identity. If the retailer refuses to accept the card, they would be on a slippery slope as they are bound by the terms and conditions of the credit card companies. If that changes, though…

  • Well I emailed gatwick_feedback@baa.com on the 4th September, and got a reply today. In my email I pointed out that they could achieve the same effect without taking our photos simply by requiring us to keep boarding card stubs and to present them + photo ID and that simply separating the incoming and outgoing passengers would solve the problem without incurring the delays. I also asked what would happen if I refused to be photographed.

    The reply is interesting. It starts off by saying:

    “Thank you for taking the time to contact us and I can appreciate that you would find this proceedure strange. However, this process has not only been in place since 1st November 2001, it is fully agreed in protocol with the control authorities and was the result of a directive from UK Immigration, and there was little scope for consultation with passengers prior to its implementation.”

    They say that the recognise the disruption it causes and do monitor the efficiency of the system and try to improve it. They say the main benefit of it is to maintain the ability for South Terminal carries such as easyJet to operate domestic routes from Gatwick.

    Finally, after assuring me the photos are destroyed as stated on the slip of paper (I raised the issue of normal “delete” vs actual wiping of computer files) they say:

    “Should a passenger, for whatever reason, refuse to undertake this process they would not be allowed entry beyond this location and are likely to be detained by one of the control authorities for further investigation.”

    Lovely eh?

    James

  • The reply is interesting. It starts off by saying:
    “Thank you for taking the time to contact us and I can appreciate that you would find this proceedure strange. However, this process has not only been in place since 1st November 2001, it is fully agreed in protocol with the control authorities and was the result of a directive from UK Immigration, and there was little scope for consultation with passengers prior to its implementation.”

    Ah yes. Passing the buck. And of course UK Immigration wouldn’t dream of consulting with the public about anything. (That said, I have some sympathy for BAA here. UK Immigration are horribly inflexible and genuinely are the bad guys, here. As someone without an EU passport, I find them a considerable pain in the arse. They have never had any reason to cause me trouble as I obey the immigration laws, but in terms of being generally rude and obstructionist, they are awful).

    They say that the recognise the disruption it causes and do monitor the efficiency of the system and try to improve it. They say the main benefit of it is to maintain the ability for South Terminal carries such as easyJet to operate domestic routes from Gatwick.

    This seems to not be in place at Stansted. Domestic passengers and other people not requiring immigration checks (ie passengers from Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man) are mixed in with everybody else, and upon showing their boarding passes are allowed to go through a different gate and not go through immigration. I have seen one or two people who have lost their boarding passes rufused permission to go through that gate and forced to go through immigration with everyone else. As to what happens if someone forgets their passport and loses their boarding pass, I don’t know. (Presumably they ultimately have to check passenger lists and the like.

    Finally, after assuring me the photos are destroyed as stated on the slip of paper (I raised the issue of normal “delete” vs actual wiping of computer files) they say:
    “Should a passenger, for whatever reason, refuse to undertake this process they would not be allowed entry beyond this location and are likely to be detained by one of the control authorities for further investigation.”
    Lovely eh?

    Delightful. If you object to your privacy being violated, you must have something to hide, and therefore we will detain you. You must obey our rules, and providing some alternate means of identification just means you have something to hide. Welcome to the presumption of guilt. If you have EU citizenship and the right to actually live in the UK then they presumably ultimately have to let you go, but they can make life difficult first.

    But as I mentioned earlier, you have no rights when you are in an airport. That one is lost. The immigration bureacracy is awful beyond words, but no government wants to reform it, as that way leads to lots of “Government soft on asylum seekers” headlines in the Sun, and in any event, the people worst inconvenienced are foreigners, anyway. And if there is a terrorist attack and it turns out precautions were too soft, then they know the finger will be pointed at them. Therefore we have all this absurd bureacracy so they can say they took a lot of precautions.

  • Rob

    An interesting reply from BAA. I’m impressed that they took the time to read your email and reply, something it is unusual for large organisations to do.

    It’s disappointing though that they merely say “Imiigration make us do it” without much further explanation. I suspect, as Michael Jennings suggests, that these are just precautions for the sake of precautions, so that they look like they’re Doing Something About It.

    As for detaining me if I refuse to have my picture taken, bring it on! I’d just love to cause some hassle for these guys, and see how far I can push them. I’ll be sure to arrive in Edinburgh with plenty of time to spare if I ever fly there. ;-)

    Heh – what if we fill a plane full of White Rose readers and we _all_ refuse. How many people can they detain at once?

  • Just to point out it is Gatwickairport that instituted this measure, not Edinburgh.

    Would they detain a whole plainload of passengers who refused I wonder?

  • It is difficult for everyone!!! passengers and governments alike.
    However, we should never forget the right to privacy.

    oscar
    http://www.Firstcarhire.com
    http://www.Firstcarhire.com

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  • We could recommend using either Alamo or Hertz in the UK, as both do not offer these practices on car hire in the UK.

    Regards,

    Ron
    http://www.auto-rental.net