Despite El Reg writing about the case of the Ryanair passenger earlier this year who was registered for a flight in error after somebody mistyped his email address, poor old "Not That Gary" has been struck by the same problem again – thanks to someone using a toll bridge in southeast England.
Gary – no surname – was an early adopter of Gmail and picked an address in the format name.surname@gmail. Unfortunately for Gary, because his name is relatively common, people just keep on entering it into services that he has absolutely no connection with.
Take the Dartford Crossing and associated toll. The bridge and tunnel is the easternmost crossing point over the River Thames. A vital arterial link between Kent and Essex, the bridge's construction was originally funded by a toll. Although the construction debt was paid off in 2002, greedy government officials decided to keep squeezing the £200m/year cash cow and are now looking at outsourcing it to keep the profits flowing from already-taxed motorists who have few practical alternatives.
Gary found himself receiving emails from the Dartford Charge scheme's operators. Just one problem presented itself: Gary lives in New Jersey, USA, and has never lived nor driven in the UK. Strangely enough, he isn't called Andrew either, despite that being the person to whom the emails were addressed.
Being a reasonable fellow, Gary contacted the Dartford Charge's customer service department to ask for his email address to be deleted as the messages clearly weren't intended for him.
This did not have the desired result. Some useless clodhopper wrote back:
Thank you for contacting Dart Charge. I have received your email regarding email notification you are receiving about a Dart Charge account.
Before we can disclose any information, Data Protection regulations require us to be certain we are dealing with the right person. To do this we need some additional details from you.
Please reply to this email or call us and provide at least three of the following:
- Your full name
- 10-digit Dart Charge account number
- Your vehicle registration
- Your 4-digit contact centre security PIN
- Daytime contact number
Bemused, Gary replied: "I cannot give you three of these because, AS I SAID ORIGINALLY, I am not your customer. I am receiving emails for your customer at my email address despite not living the UK, not owning a car in the UK, and never having driven in the UK. I only have the account number because you sent it to me along with the account holder's name (pretty sure that would be a GDPR violation)."
Undeterred, this paragon of British bureaucracy responded to tell Gary it didn't care and wasn't going to do the right thing:
As you cannot provide the requested information we are unable to assist with your request, to the email address registered to account number given.
Lost for alternatives, Gary dropped The Register a line. We asked Highways England, which oversees the Dartford Charge, what was going on. Red-faced press officers eventually confirmed to us that Gary's email address had been deleted.
Turnpikes – the concept of charging road users for the privilege of driving on a particular road, in the same way as the Dart Charge operates today – grew out of 17th-century concerns from local councils that they couldn't afford to maintain the roads in their counties and parishes. They were progressively abolished with the passing of the Local Government Act 1888, having proved an impediment to free trade and national prosperity.
Whether the Data Protection Act 2018 will also be added to the list of "things that caused the abolition of turnpikes" remains to be seen. ®