Last week, the Port Authority proudly announced that those handy windshield-mounted cartridges that allow drivers to pay tolls electronically can soon be used to pay the parking-lot charges at Kennedy, La Guardia, and Newark airports.
Meanwhile, transportation officials have been less forthcoming about another expansion of E-ZPass technology. Unbeknownst to most E-ZPass subscribers, antennas placed along twenty miles of the New York State Thruway and the New Jersey Turnpike have been quietly picking up their I.D. numbers and clocking their speed and location.
Until now, it’s been a modest test program, soft-pedaled by transportation officials as something about which the driving public need not be alarmed. But the test has been so successful that starting next month, Transcom (a consortium of fourteen local transportation agencies) will install antennas along all major arteries – more than 150 miles of road – leading in and out of New York. “We’re doing this so we can track patterns and definitely not to issue speeding tickets,” insists Transcom’s Peter Dwyer, adding that the tracking system can’t identify individual drivers. “We scramble the I.D. numbers and assign each a random code. Then we delete the information at the end of the cycle.”
Critics are not impressed by these protective measures. “I’ve seen this over and over again,” says Evan Hendricks, the editor of Privacy Times. “First, when they want to implement the technology, they promise they won’t use it for anything else. But once they start collecting this kind of data, sooner or later it’s too hard to resist.”