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Government Privacy Transportation United States

Big Brother Calls 'Shotgun' In Illinois 475

Posted by timothy
from the how-could-george-bush-do-such-a-thing dept.
Reader kackle joins the army of free and accepted Slashdot submitters with this eyebrow-raising story: "I received a form letter from the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority saying that my first-generation 'IPASS' transponder needs to be replaced because the battery is old. I called them for clarification since the first-generation transponders obviously have user-replaceable batteries, and I wanted to keep this version because it beeps when a toll is paid. (This notifies drivers that their battery is still good, unlike the silent second-generation version, which informs them of a dead battery by sending a ticket in the mail.) The woman on the phone explained that they were replacing them just because the electronics are old. This uninformed answer made me research the device. I found that the manufacturer has recently filed a patent application for a new transponder that has a camera in it — a camera pointed inward at the occupants. How long before they make it illegal to cover that camera with tape?"
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Big Brother Calls 'Shotgun' In Illinois

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @10:51AM (#37613196)

    Take a picture of the inside of your car, shrink it down, and attach it to the camera. They'll be so confused about the driverless car that they won't worry about what laws you might be breaking.

    • by v1 (525388)

      They'll be so confused about the driverless car

      Oh come on, you can be more creative than that! How about photoshopping in Hitler, George Bush, Big Bird, or your dalmation?

      I really don't see why it matters though, the ticket is tied to the license plate, hence the owner of the car, regardless of who's at the wheel.

      • by erroneus (253617)

        That is unless they want positive ID of a person. Most of these automated citations have not taken their cases to criminal traffic courts because of the problem of positive identification. If they are trying to make positive identification more clear or obvious, you can bet they are trying to use the criminal/traffic courts to collect fines instead of using civil courts.

        • by batquux (323697) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:20AM (#37613640)

          What's the point, anyway? If the device is working, then the toll gets paid. If it's not, they aren't going to get an image from it.

          • the 'point' is when you have 'tolls' that get paid if you only have one passenger and tolls that you're exempt from if you're HOV.

            HOT lanes are being built in DC and exist in a number of other places. This device is tailor made for HOT lanes...and of course massive privacy invasion, but that's just icing on the cake I'm sure ;-)
          • Ah, here's a subtle but distressing possibility:

            If you pass through more than one toll gate, they can determine your average speed between the toll gates, and if it's over the average posted limit, they can send you a ticket. If they have a picture of you driving at both check points, then they have proof it was you speeding.

            Further, if you're being investigated for some reason, your transponder may not be enough evidence ("Just because my car was parked outside that bank doesn't mean I was... I was
        • by hedwards (940851)

          They don't take it to court because they'd have to send somebody to court to testify. If needing a positive ID to issue a citation were necessary nobody would ever get a parking ticket that wasn't caught getting into or out of the improperly parked car.

    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      Better yet, cover it in the blood of your enemies!

  • Jolly. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @10:52AM (#37613206) Homepage Journal

    So now you won't even be able to enjoy a beer in the front seat without being caught on video.

  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @10:53AM (#37613218) Homepage Journal
    From what I can tell, they have not manufactured a single device with a camera on it. Until they're actually in use somewhere, I'm not going to get my panties in a bunch. For all you know the camera equipped model is for specific edge cases like maybe charging cabs more if they have an occupant or something and won't be used 99% of the time.
    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      I agree, it's not a technical marvel to put a small consumer available camera in something like a transponder. There might be uses for it outside the average driver. If they do go through with it... the backlash and work arounds would be endless. Sounds like poster is a bit paranoid of the government :) which is very smart, but don't overdo it by jumping the gun.

    • by jythie (914043)
      I suspect some other motive too. Doing a quick bit of googling, it looks like in 1998 they recalled the first generation tags due to voltage problems causing silent failures, though I am not sure if those are the same 'first generation' units the OP is referring to.
      • by tchuladdiass (174342) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:11AM (#37613502) Homepage

        From the Illinois Tollway site:
        The Tollway recommends that these transponders be replaced for two important reasons:

                The older transponder model is no longer being manufactured and, therefore, is no longer certified by the manufacturer.
                Our testing has shown that the older transponder model does not perform as well as the new transponders on the new open road tolling system.

        The first point means that if the tollway were to update the receiver equipment on the roads, they are not guaranteed to work with the old transponders. And I can vouch for the second point personally -- many problems with the first generation of transponders.

        The other main problem with the first gen transponders, is that the battery looks like a regular AA battery, but it is actually a 3.6 volt Lithium battery. Users were replacing them with a regular AA, and therefore getting the under voltage condition.

        • by jythie (914043)
          That sounds like a much more plausible reason then rolling out some new transponder with a camera in it that the manufacturer does not appear to actually make.
    • A company patents an Idea it doesn't mean they will implement it... It also doesn't mean their customer will buy it if it is implemented... It also doesn't mean if the customer does buy it that they will use the feature... It also doesn't mean if the customer does use the feature that they will abuse it to squander our rights....

  • I'm all for pointing out glaring privacy issues, but this sort of sounds like someone had an idea for generating tolls based on occupants, and completely didn't think about the obvious issue with invasion of privacy. I would just hope it's never implemented.

    [...] detecting and counting the passengers of the vehicle by means of the evaluation unit of the onboard unit; and in the onboard unit, calculating a toll as a function of the number of passengers

    • by mbone (558574)

      You can't tell from a patent application, either way, as you tend to add on any conceivable use.

  • I have my own set of paranoia, one where some thief breaks the window of my car to steal my transponder. Unlikely, yes, but as a result, my transponder ends up in between the seats covered with paper. Can't you do something similar? Also, are you sure the transponder has a camera? Because that thing would run out of battery fast, and there's a difference (unfortunately) between patenting something and actually building it.
    • by pnewhook (788591)
      What idiot would steal a transponder? They have no value, they don't cost anything to get, they can be used to identify the car they are in if stolen and they can be invalidated remotely. There's absolutely no point in stealing one..
  • Seems like a little bit of black tape ought to fix the camera, no?

    And how long will it be before somebody hacks it to transmit pictures of hentai [wikipedia.org] (NSFW) back to the Illinois traffic HQ?

    Or, more likely: how long before somebody hacks it to pick up the camera feed from unauthorized recievers?

  • All you gotta do is put a camera on something? I'd like to patent Video Pants.
  • Non-story (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OverlordQ (264228) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @10:56AM (#37613274) Journal

    The next abstract part:

    and an evaluation unit connected down-line of the camera that detects and counts the passengers of the vehicle in the image recording.

    Sounds like a company that makes toll devices, are patenting a toll device that can enforce HOV Tolls by detecting if you actually have more then one person in the vehicle . . . . imagine that.

    which informs them of a dead battery by sending a ticket in the mail.

    Nothing in that first page had *anything* to do with a battery, it had to do with their billing system and having invalid license plate data.

    This uninformed answer made me research the device.

    And come up with the completely wrong conclusion.

    Jesus christ I know /. isn't what it used to be, but seriously is this the Daily Mail now?

    • This uninformed answer made me research the device.

      And come up with the completely wrong conclusion.

      Thanks for this... Even for the heavily tinfoil leaning Slashdot Demographic this was a spectacularly bad article.

    • Re:Non-story (Score:4, Insightful)

      by HeckRuler (1369601) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:51AM (#37614076)

      a toll device that can enforce HOV Tolls by detecting if you actually have more then one person in the vehicle . . . . imagine that.

      I am imagining it. And it's horrible. Think about this. As you drive down the road, they take a picture of you in your car using a camera in your car which is required to use the service. They send that to someone to check to see if you're breaking the rules.... That's a 1984 telescreen snooping on you.

      Now, of course, they only want to use it to enforce the commuter lanes. And as lame as it is, I'm going to invoke the slippery slope argument. If they can catch you for breaking one rule, you KNOW they're going to append the rules to bust drunks. Then video is going to be used as evidence in some horrible crash of a white male not paying attention as he slams into someone. It'll be contested. They'll win. And now you drive in a Panopticon.

      I'm all for people following the rules, but this is putting WAY too much trust in the toll road operators.

  • What if a baby (a baby) does a huge poop (they store that up for the car, I'm sure of it) and you have to change them in plain site of that evil camera. Why you would being filming and transmitting what is by all means scat child porn. I'd refuse on those grounds alone...
    a bit silly I know; but the law is the law.
    • This is straight logic diarrhea, stop thinking for yourself
    • by pnewhook (788591)
      That's the stupidest argument I've ever heard. Just because someone is naked doesn't make it porn. If that were true, breatfeeding in public would be considered porn.
  • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @10:56AM (#37613288)

    There is no camera in any ipass system nor any intention of doing so. Camera tech is ancient, this could have been implemented 10 years ago. I know this is the kind of manufactured controversy that gets ad impressions for slashdot, but please, there are real problems in the world, and this isn't one of them.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      There is no camera in any ipass system nor any intention of doing so.

      Governments always claim there's 'no intention of doing so' until the day they do it.

      • Governments always claim there's 'no intention of doing so' until the day they do it.

        More accurately, 'until the day after they get caught doing it'.
  • Here in NY we have EZ-Pass, which is also used by several other states (though I hear some of the other states charge fees for them). NY doesn't charge for the transponder itself, and they provide a faraday cage bag to keep it in when not in use (showing they realize people don't want a permanent transponder). It doesn't beep when a toll is paid, instead you wait for the light to turn green as you go through the toll booth. The only privacy issue is that the state could theoretically measure how long it tak
    • by djdanlib (732853)

      Here in NY we have EZ-Pass (...) The only privacy issue is that the state could theoretically measure how long it takes you to get from one booth to another and try to automatically issue speeding tickets.

      They actually do that.

      It hasn't happened to me but it has happened to people I know.

    • Yeah, the toll booths we have what is called "open road tolling". We still have a handful of cash / iPass lanes on the side of the freeway (typically near on-off ramps) but then we get 3-4 lanes for straight through iPass traffic where you don't have to slow down at all from whatever normal freeway speeds you are driving at (most do slow down a little to avoid the occasional state patrol lurking near the ramps though).

      To top that off, the iPass cuts the cost of the tolls in half over the stated prices for c
      • by vlm (69642)

        All in all they do save a very substantial amount of time and money for even casual drivers in IL.

        No, you'd save substantial money by getting rid of the entire gigantic billing system.

  • Has anyone been experiencing weird reboots with their augs lately? I got an email from the LIMB clinic saying I should get the control chip replaced, think I'm going to go...
  • Do you have any evidence that they are trying to replace your device with a new one that has a camera? Just because the manufacturer filed for some patent doesn't mean your state is using that technology, or that anyone would want to buy it for that matter. And then there's the tinfoil hat slippery slope conclusion that covering a camera might be illegal someday? Has anyone in your legislature proposed such an idea?

  • by joeaguy (884004) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:05AM (#37613432)

    In the NYC area there are many toll discount programs for call pools with ezpass. In order to get the discount, you must use a cash lane even though you have an ezpass, so an attendant can confirm you are driving with the required number of people for the discount. So you pay less, but you get stuck in traffic with all the people paying cash. If a transponder had an inward facing camera then it could provide a way of letting you use ezpass only lanes and still get the discounts.

    This application makes it no less freaky. I would only ever consider it if there were some technological privacy safeguard. For instance, a built in manually operated only door over the lens. When I approach a toll, I have to slide it open to allow the picture to be taken to get my discount. After the toll, I can slide it back closed.

    There are lots of people who keep their ezpass in the metal coated bag and only mount it when they are near a toll, and there are non-toll ezpass readers all over the place, with the stated goal of monitoring traffic flow. Wanting to pay tolls faster and get discounts should not mean having to submit to random and capricious tracking and a total loss of privacy when traveling.

  • Put a picture of Anthony Wiener in front of the camera.
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Nah, this is Illinois, better use a picture of Rod Blagojevich.

      • I wouldn't do that, since Blago will most likely be in Jail soon, it would great if they put in a cell next to Ryan (the last governor).
  • Actually... based on how they do it just over the line in MA, I bet there is a more subtle play going on.

    Here, if a transponder stops working, or there is an account problem (happened to me) they treat it just like any other unpaid toll. They take a picture, and send you a ticket in the mail. This part is key you see. Now you call them up, and the process is now dealing with a ticket. They can't help you, and have no incentive to because its not collected and dealt with by the same people.

    So I could call up

  • No battery in I-PASS (Score:2, Informative)

    by clorkster (1996844)

    The old models only have a battery because they beep and some (perhaps all) have a display showing your I-PASS balance. The newer models are entirely sealed, and do not require a battery because they work by RFID chips. This post is a bit ridiculous.

    If you want the reasoning... go no farther than the I-PASS website [illinoistollway.com] (quoted below):

    I have one of the old display model transponders that beeps. Can I keep replacing the battery instead of swapping it out for a new transponder?

    These older model transponders need to be replaced to ensure customers continue to receive the benefits of I-PASS and avoid toll violations. The Tollway recommends that these transponders be replaced for two important reasons:

    The older transponder model is no longer being manufactured and, therefore, is no longer certified by the manufacturer. Our testing has shown that the older transponder model does not perform as well as the new transponders on the new open road tolling system."

  • I live in IL and have an IPASS on two of my vehicles (got the units about 6 months ago).

    In addition to the ugly little units that you have to attach to the inside of your windshield with adhesive/plastic velcro-like stuff (UGLY), they offer "external" IPASS devices that attach to your front license plate with screws. Called a "License Plate Tag": http://www.illinoistollway.com/portal/page?_pageid=133,1392898&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL#mount_transponder [illinoistollway.com]

    Ostensibly, these are to be used by people wit

  • Summary is WRONG (Score:4, Informative)

    by LanMan04 (790429) on Wednesday October 05, 2011 @11:45AM (#37613990)

    (This notifies drivers that their battery is still good, unlike the silent second-generation version, which informs them of a dead battery by sending a ticket in the mail.)

    This is not correct when you sign up for an IPASS account, you give the toll authority your license plate numbers. If your vehicle goes through a toll and the IPASS unit doesn't work correctly, when the toll authority goes through the photos of supposed violators' plate numbers, yours will be cleared as a registered plate and they just deduct the toll as per usual. It shows up on your IPASS transaction list/invoice as a "Virtual Toll". I had a bunch of those on my statement from when I took the unit off of one car and put it on another for a week, and they didn't seem to care at all. Same regular toll price.

    The summary links for a forum post that says

    "Worse, the way they're sorting out motorcycles from cars is by doctoring the plate number in the system, so when they go to check your plate number, it won't come up even if it's linked to the account, and they assume that you're not an I-Pass customer even if you are."

    So that's some issue with motorcycles and the way their goofy system works, and this was in 2005.

    Now, since they can read your plate and determine if you're an IPASS user, and there is no penalty for not having an IPASS unit in your car if you're a registered user...why have IPASS units at all? I guess for when it's raining or the plate is obscured and they can't collect a toll by OCRing the plate?

  • First off, yes, we should all get pitchforks and ax handles to storm the Illinois Toll Authority over this. It is obscene that they think they can collect money for driving on roads, and roads that were promised to have the tolls removed from after they were paid for ... in like 1970. Here we are 41 years later and nobody is talking about discontinuing the tolls any longer.

    The whole iPass thing is a criminal enterprise to begin with. The idea of untraceably collecting money from people as they drive. Wh

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