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California Tracks Everyone Using Toll Transponders 428

obtuse writes "Direct monitoring of traffic sounds pretty cool, but some people don't want their toll transponders tracked. They aren't installing direct driver tracking for law enforcement now, but the collected data could be subpoenaed. Of course, anyone who didn't want to be tracked could just put it in the glovebox anyway, so they won't be catching clever felons or tracking real paranoiacs."
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California Tracks Everyone Using Toll Transponders

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  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:09PM (#4041847) Homepage
    I don't have a big problem with toll records being accessible in criminal cases (aka, by subpeona). Many criminals *are* stupid, so if this helps catch them then I'm happy. Besides, I have no reasonable expectation of privacy on a bridge (which is why I try to keep the nose-picking to a minimum).

    What I worry about it that leading to civil uses -- what if my wife's lawyer got records showing I was sneaking over the Golden Gate to visit my mistress (expensive booty call with the new tolls, BTW).

    I wish there were some reasonable way to insure against a slippery slope. I would prefer to live in a country where it's easy to catch criminals without sliding into surveilling lawful citizens.

    • **snip**
      Besides, I have no reasonable expectation of privacy on a bridge (which is why I try to keep the nose-picking to a minimum).

      Call me crazy, but I expect privacy while in my car. I don't expect to have to buy expensive counter-surveillance equipment (or use a mylar bag) to protect my privacy. I don't want even aggregate data about my whereabouts or preferences being known. Not because I have anything to hide, but because I don't.
      ref: The Fourth Amendment []

      • OK, your crazy, a ferakin loon.

        You sit in a small box with lots of windows on a public street and expect privacy?
      • What you expect, then, is anonymity. There's a difference.
        • I expect the option of anonymity and privacy and identity and freedom etc.

          It's all about choice and freedom. If I want to be anonymous in a so-called "free" country I should. If I want privacy I should be entitled to that as well. As well as anything else that I damn well please as long as it's within the scope of myself and no one else.

          Should no one be allowed these things?

          Wether I'm actually going to make use of them or not if irrelevant. As long as they're available to me then that's all that matters.

          • Should no one be allowed these things?

            Well, no, not in the case you're bringing up.

            By your logic, I should be able to tint all my windows to 95% and drive around without license plates. Of course, I can't do that for obvious reasons.

            You have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public. That's why they call it "in public". If you want privacy, stay in your house and out of areas in plain view of public places -- then you have a leg to stand on.

      • Here's a hint then privacy-boy, don't put a transmitter designed to track you on your windshield, and instead of paying automatically use coins. It's impossible to be anonymous when you have a transmitter with a unique id stuck to your car.

        If you really want to be anonymous walk to work, preferably with a bag over your head.

      • by Moonshadow ( 84117 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:33PM (#4042070)
        Legally, your car is a public place. Your trunk is not. There's a reason you can't drive around naked - it's in public, so you can get arrested for indecent exposure. Therefore, you can have the same expectation of privacy that you would have if you were in the mall, or walking, or whatever.

        That is, unless you're in the trunk, which you probably don't want to be anyway.
        • You are mixing two types of Public.

          One my car is NOT Public place. I own my car and its contents. What I contain in my car is my business, where I take my car is my business.

          My car can be viewed by the Public. There is no illusion that I can see out and you can not see in. In a limo with tinted windows, that another story. :-)

          The police are allowed to look at a car see what is visible. In your example: your nake body and atrest you for "not being dressed". They can arrest in your home of the same reason, if they could see you in the window.

    • without sliding into surveilling lawful citizens

      Shouldn't that be in the past tense? Given the current state of things.
    • Okay (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by mindstrm ( 20013 )
      So, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place. Fair enough.

      Therefore, we should all wear tracking devices so the government knows exactly where we are at any given time, except when we are in a private place... after all, you have no expectation of privacy, right?

    • John Gilmore is suing for the right to fly anonymously. Many of the questions brought up in his FAQ [] have a direct parallel to this issue.

      Q. Why is anonymity so important to the right to travel?

      Most travel is for meeting other people. I fly to see my family, you fly on business, she flies to meet her best friend, he flies for a romantic vacation with his sweetheart, she flies to a conference, they fly to a political event. Meeting with people is part of "free association", which just means being free to associate with whoever you want to.

      Undemocratic governments traditionally try to prevent people from associating anonymously, because most credible challenges to government policies occur from groups of people who meet and agree to work together. Racist Southern states passed laws 50 years ago to require the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to give its membership list to the state -- so that the members could be harassed or killed by Ku Klux Klan members who were often local racist politicians and law enforcement officers. The Supreme Court struck down those laws. The NAACP was able to gather broad support for changing our racial policies, and we had a relatively peaceful transition to a much less racist society. These racist governments wanted to scare people away from joining the reform movements, either by harassing existing members, or by making people afraid to join. If they had gotten their way, we would still have terrible racial policies, or the people most affected by those policies would have had to resort to violence to get the policies changed. If the government had a database tracking the movements of NAACP leaders and those who attended its rallies and events, then the government could harass the organization without ever getting the membership list.

      In addition, the First Amendment gives us the right to petition our government for redress of grievances. We can petition anonymously, and sometimes we must, when seeking to change draconian laws that the government would like to apply to us. A small number of the people who protested the WTO in Seattle were violent, but that is no excuse for seeking to identify WTO protesters in general, or to prevent them from traveling to the next anti-WTO protest. If the government could track everyone who flew to Seattle that week, and mark them as suspected terrorists, then their freedom to anonymously petition would be violated.

      As Americans, we are pretty smug about our freedom; we don't even think about how we would take it back if suddenly a planned demonstration or political meeting was "canceled" because 90% of the attendees had been mysteriously stopped from flying or driving or taking the train or bus to attend. But the "transportation security" system and the profiling and databases behind it are all poised and ready to do exactly that. All it will take is a bureaucrat or politician who says "Do it", because all the mechanisms will already be built. It was only 60 years ago that hundreds of thousands of Americans were imprisoned solely for their Japanese cultural heritage. Only 40 years ago that anti-war and civil rights protesters were bugged, followed, smeared, arrested, impersonated, and disrupted by the supposedly lawful government. Only 30 years ago that a Republican President was bugging the Democratic National Committee. Only ten years ago that our prison population was half what it is today, with the increase coming from imprisoning black and Latino innocents over victimless crimes like drug use. Only two years ago that a Presidential election was stolen. I'm not talking about a banana republic somewhere else; I'm talking about our own country. Abuse of government surveillance, and suppresison of unpopular minorities, are documented facts right here in the US, not unrealistic or remote fears.

  • by FuzzyDaddy ( 584528 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:11PM (#4041868) Journal
    I use to have a toll transponder and commute to work. When I got my bill, It listed the time I went through any given toll. There were two tolls - one to enter the road, and one to exit.

    I'm sure glad I was never asked to explain how I made it nine miles in under eight minutes on a 55 MPH road.

    • I'm sure glad I was never asked to explain how I made it nine miles in under eight minutes on a 55 MPH road.

      well, for all they know, maybe you just took a shortcut! ;-)
    • Actually, I've heard a story of someone on the Penn Turnpike getting a huge ticket because they did that calculation based on the entry and exit locations (stamped on the toll ticket), and the time stamps. The average speed turned out to be over 100 mph, so the cops just pulled him over right after he payed the exit toll.

      See, this is the kind of stuff that gets us all scared. Everything will be monitored and compiled in some huge database, automatically sending out speeding tickets.

      <sarcasm>Boy I'm glad I live in a free country</sarcasm>

      • you're not free to break the law fuckhead. the 55 mph is the law, its not the law only if you get caught.
        • you're not free to break the law...

          I've recently been reflecting on the purpose of the law. I agree, as part of a civil society we choose to give up our freedom to do things that are against 'the law'. Why? Well, to secure Life, Liberty, and Property, according to the founders of this country.

          So, why do we have laws imposing a 55mph speed limit? To preserve life, as such speed limits theoretically reduce the number of innocent people transformed into road pizza by some confused drivers who might otherwise confuse small-town roads with the European Autobahn.

          So again, back to my original point, and I'll pretend I'm a Californian for a moment. Why should the State Patrol be allowed to use this transponder data to catch speeders? Well, if it can be proven to save lives without an unreasonable cost in tax dollars (and yes, you can put a price tag on a life, just ask any insurance company), then I would be for it. If, on the other hand, it's just to force people into obedience of the law for the law's sake, then it starts to be an abuse of freedom.
    • I'm sure glad I was never asked to explain how I made it nine miles in under eight minutes on a 55 MPH road.

      Just tell 'em you would have done better if you hadn't had to stop to fix that flat tire.

  • "And to the dismay of some FasTrak users, it's not optional -- the only way to avoid triggering the sensors throughout nine Bay Area counties is to stash the transponder in Mylar bags, which will be provided to nervous motorists. "

    In other words, it is optional (though inconvenient). Get a bag, be safe, drive through.
    • This makes it sound like you'll have to call a phone number to get the mylar bag, and shell out six bucks or something. For years, the EZPass and FastLane systems in New York and Taxachusetts have been sending a little mylar bag with the transponder when you get it in the first place. (Although as a friend of mine pointed out, what would the thin layer of mylar do that the steel, plastic, and glass of my car would not?)

      Also, it's not inconvenient to not be tracked. Just don't get a toll transponder. The more people that use them, the shorter the "cash" lines will be at the toll booth.

    • Re:Optional? (Score:2, Informative)

      "And to the dismay of some FasTrak users, it's not optional -- the only way to avoid triggering the sensors throughout nine Bay Area counties is to stash the transponder in Mylar bags, which will be provided to nervous motorists. "

      Unfortunately, I don't think the (aluminized) mylar bags keep the sensors from being triggered. They do alter the signal, though. My mother lives in Maine and had one of those devices. She noticed that when the thing wasn't in the bag, the sensors would be triggered and the display at the toll booth would show that everything was OK and she could go ahead and drive through. But when it WAS in the bag, the display at the toll booth was still triggered, but with a different message, indicating that Mom's account would not be billed on this trip.

      I was awfully proud of Mom when she first told me about this and mentioned that she didn't like "Big Brother" tracking where she was driving.

  • Of course, anyone who didn't want to be tracked could just put it in the glovebox anyway, so they won't be catching clever felons or tracking real paranoiacs."

    Left my transponder in the glove box once,BEEP BEEP ensured me that it was caught, and I was charged the appropriate toll.

    I never figured out why law enforement couldn't track speeders and ticket them. 80 km of road travelled in 30 min = speeding!

    -Yo Grark

    "Canadian Bred with American Buttering"
    • I'm curious as to how it would know that it's in a glovebox.

      Does it sense that the signal is jammed, record the jam and then send a singal once it's un-jammed??? What happens if you're driving through some high-interference area and the signal gets cut temporarily? How can it possibly tell the difference between that and being put in a glovebox?

      Maybe my imagination is just weakened today for some reason but I don't see how this is technologically possible.

      Seems really fishy to me....

    • Mentioned it above, but it would be difficult to prove. There are several factors that would have to be exact, for instance two different clocks, needing to be calibrated together almost exactly ANd make sure they each take a full second. Furthermore, you can't prove that I didn't hop off the highway, take a shortcut and hop back on, unlikely but possible.
  • by guacamolefoo ( 577448 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:14PM (#4041902) Homepage Journal
    The way to pay for this fancy new traffic monitoring is clearly to send tickets to everyone that goes from point A to point B in less time than it should take per the posted speed limit. Considering that we already have automatic red light and speeding traffic tickets (no police intervention required!), this seems like the next step for the "coddle you to death" bureaucrats to take.

    • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:21PM (#4041969)
      Growing up in the NE, we often traversed the Penn. State Turnpike. Back then, they gave you a punch card (Hollerith card for you purists) at the entrance booth, and you handed to the attendant when you exited. If your calculated speed was above a certain limit, you were referred to a Penn. state trooper waiting at the booth for a "consultation."

      My father was a cop, so it was never a big deal, professional courtesy and all that...
      • Calculus (Score:4, Interesting)

        by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:36PM (#4042098) Homepage
        That reminds me of a really strange movie we saw back in first year calculus class. (Yeah, movies in math class. Weird in itself.)

        Had to do with just such a situation, with the driver being referred to the cop for speeding. The trooper proceeds to explain Rolle's Theorem and Mean Value Theorem to the driver as proof that somewhere in between the two toll booths, he had to have been speeding.

        I guess to the extent that I remember the name of Rolle's Theorem, the movie served its purpose. OTOH it always seemed kind of intuitively obvious to me.
    • We had photo radar here in Ontario, Canada for a while. No one liked it. The majority of speeders wanted their day in court, instead of paying a fine. The courts became so backed up with photo radar cases that the government had to stop using photo radar.
      • > We had photo radar here in Ontario, Canada for a while. No one liked it. The majority of speeders wanted their day in court, instead of paying a fine. The courts became so backed up with photo radar cases that the government had to stop using photo radar.

        Didn't it also take an election campaign [] and a victory by the opposition party to get photo radar repealed?

        (Amazingly enough, not only did the opposition party win, it looks like they kept their promise by dumping photo radar immediately after the '95 election. A bit of googling reveals that even the losers [] of the election confirm it.)

    • i dunno....that might be hard to prove if taken to court, considering the speed of light ain't what it use to be!
    • by Null_Packet ( 15946 ) <nullpacket.doscher@net> on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:31PM (#4042053)
      Good point, but under California law this kind of speed enforcement is labeled a 'Speed Trap' and is expressley outlawed in Cali. The basic definition AFIAK is a speed trap uses two measuring devices at each end of a 'corridor', where your progress is timed and used to give you a ticket. In some states they used choppers and cessnas to stopwatch your progress between visible/plotted markers and a ground unit is dispatched to issue the ticket.

      CA outtlaws this practice and requires for speeding tickets that the same office who clocked you is the same office you tickets you (with some slight variances). Worry less about the CHP and worry more about CalTrans' ability to fsck the data up and not build freeways in a timely manner.
      • Good point, but under California law this kind of speed enforcement is labeled a 'Speed Trap' and is expressley outlawed in Cali.

        I suppose it'd be silly of me to state the obvious, but I'll do it anyway: laws can be changed, quietly, quickly, and without you knowing much about it. Today the law can call it a speed trap. There's nothing to stop "the powers that be" from changing that law -- nothing except the public. Unfortunately, "the public" these days is disenchanted with government and pays it little mind. Society has devolved into a bunch of sheeple (sheep+people) that do whatever government wants so long as it doesn't intefere with them watching WWF or The Weakest Link re-runs.

        No, that law would get changed in short order when the city/state governments figured out that they could use this data to issue speeding tickets, automatically and irrefutably, using a simple mathematical formula in their computers. Voila! Instant revenue generator. They've already done it with photo radar, what makes you think they'll restrict this new stuff?

        And to put it in a perspective that the average liberal-minded Slashdotter can grasp, consider this:

        Suppose Google said that they were going to start tracking your web surfing habits anytime you go to their page. They'll record your IP address, what you searched for, what you linked to from their search engine, and place a cookie on your machine identifying you uniquely for all future visits, all without you pressing a button. These statistics would ONLY be used to better the search engine, so they say, but would YOU feel comfortable knowing your online "movements" were trackable?

        I know I wouldn't.

    • what if the clocks at each endpoint are not properly synchronized? you might be able to challenge the ticket claiming the second clock was a few minutes "slow".
    • The way to pay for this fancy new traffic monitoring is clearly to send tickets to everyone that goes from point A to point B in less time than it should take per the posted speed limit. Considering that we already have automatic red light and speeding traffic tickets (no police intervention required!), this seems like the next step for the "coddle you to death" bureaucrats to take.

      Yeah, nothing like taking steps toward reliable, equitable enforcement of existing laws. Just think, you could suddenly start receiving tickets for breaking speed limit laws every time you break speed limit laws! Those fucking bureaucrats!

      How the hell is some automated timer system supposed to differentiate between you, a good, God-fearin', tax-payin', hard-workin' Merr-kinn in a nice new Ford Explorer and that damned migrant worker in the shitbox VW Minibus?

      It's a slippery slope. Next thing you know, they'll be enforcing all the laws on the books in an equitable, reliable manner, and all us decent folk will get sent upriver, too!

      • Let's hope so. The quickest way to get an unfair law repealed is to aggressively enforce it. With speed limits, this will no doubt be the case.
      • by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:56PM (#4042243) Homepage
        If you'd stop and consider that speed limits exist NOT for safety's sake but instead as revenue generators then you'll figure out that very few motorists agree with these laws, and even fewer actually obey them.

        The highway system in the United States was engineered with curve radii and banking to support 70MPH speeds, which oddly enough is roughly what most people drive at. The Imperial Federal Government decided to scale things back to 55MPH, not to save lives but to save gas back in the Gas Crunch of the early 70's!!! Prior to that, the limit was 70MPH and was largely obeyed by the motoring public.

        When the Gas Crunch was over, the wonderful Federal, State, and Local goverments all noted how much money they were making from all these speedy Americans, many of whom were just driving in the same manner they had prior to the Gas Crunch when it was perfectly safe and legal according to our Imperial Federal Government. Politicians LOVE money, in case you haven't noticed, and they weren't about to kill the goose that laid this golden speed trap egg. We were stuck with the double-nickel for almost 20 years before it was finally abolished on a Federal scale.

        I have no problem with the authorities enforcing all the laws on the books in an equitable, reliable manner. I do have a problem with laws designed not with the public's best interests in mind but instead put politicians and their wallets first, and you should too.
    • Many cities rely on tickets as a source of revenue. When you ALWAYS get caught speeding, eventually nobody will speed.

      I don't think the goal is to stop speeding which is mostly harmless (after all the highways in america were engineered to be safe at 100MPH with 1960's suspension) but rather to be more of a tax on people in a hurry.

    • Not to mention increasing the number of people who buy food for jacked up prices at the highway rest stops.
  • I think the idea of tags to track traffic if used for purely congestion purposes, and helping ems, etc finding the quickest way to some place, but not if able to be used for tracking individuals. Just make tags that everyone is required by law to have in their vehicles, but make them with no ID tags at all. Each transponder will basically be saying "yes there is a tag here" rather than "tag 13489023094 is here". It would allow better traffic flow dynamics with real-time data on how dense traffic is, while keeping anonymity.

    Being able to be tracked, in any form, isn't a good thing for innocent people. Maybe (BIG maybe) for conviced child molestors, murderors, etc it'd be OK to have a unique ID, and police trackable, but for the innocent (remember innocent until proven guilty you big-brother types?), there should be NO means of finding them, even if they are a suspect in a crime. Police shouldn't have access to that kind of data on normal law-abiding people. And making the tags themselves "generic" will make it impossible for them to know.

  • there can't be alot of power, heck sometimes they don't even register on the bridge...hence the phantom $4 CHARGES. Until the tracking devices are as ubiquitious as telephone poles or streetlights you've little to worry about.
  • Is just what about direct monitoring of traffic sounds cool? To me it sounds roughly as cool as a mandatory government email proxy so that all email can be directly monitored (For our own protection, of course). Russ
  • I just spent a few days visiting my cousin in San Francisco. Apparently if the electronics don't work in the electronic toll lane, a camera captures your license plate number and then they look you up and bill you later. I wonder if they would also use this to track people?
  • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:17PM (#4041929)
    Here in north Texas, the NTTA is the toll authority. If you drive around town, you can find Amtech transponders mounted high up on telephone poles -- miles away from the tollroads! Not only does NTTA track you on the tollway, they are apparently keeping tabs on you when you're not on the tollway.

    For the non-believers in Dallas: Look in the median on Valley View, just west of Marsh in Farmers Branch.
  • You asked for it! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by teamhasnoi ( 554944 ) <> on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:19PM (#4041945) Journal
    Many rental fleets and big rig companies already use satellites and global positioning systems to track cars and cargo. Companies are promoting similar products to consumers who want to track their kids, Alzheimer's patients or cheating spouses.

    If you have a wife that would put a Satellite tracker on you, she deserves to get cheated on. With multiple, ugly, crack-whores.

    Trust me or don't marry me.

  • by peterdaly ( 123554 ) <petedaly&ix,netcom,com> on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:20PM (#4041957)
    In New York State, an "EZPass" must be in a special bag for it not to be read. Looks like an anti-static bag and it may be, I don't know.

    I know people who have tried to get the thing to not be read (to get a reciept in order to expense tolls for work) and without the bag it is very hard to "hide."

    The poor design of the system means it can screw you at times if you don't do what is the expected traffic pattern. I was told once at the toll booth getting on that since my EZPass had been read, I was unable to turn around and must now get on the truway going the wrong direction and proceed to another exit or be faced with a $30 fine for illegal U-TURN. Problem was an accident closed the on ramp for the direction I needed to go.

    (I turned around at the next "NO U TURNS" turn around to go the direction I needed to once I had though out how the system worked and knew the turn would not be "detected" by the crappy EZPass system.) Also, it takes at least 24 hours for a credit on your pass to work at most ramps.

    The system in NYS sucks technically. I am quite worried about it being used for speed enforcement purposes and such.

  • Hey everyone,

    We have had this going on for a long time. They dont come right out and say they are using the toll tags for that purpose, but you know it's being done when you look at a site like this: Houston Traffic Map []. It is pretty cool though. You can look at the map and see what roads are moving and which ones are not and during rush hours most of em arent.

    M Prindle
  • Passing on the transponder and using coins won't sheild you from this type of thing. Most states put cameras at tollbooths to photograph the license plate of those who don't pay. When someone skips through a booth, a photo is taken of their license plate, OCR software reads the tag number and a ticket is generated without any human interaction. It would be trivial to write software that records the plate of each vehicle passing through, along with a timestamp.
  • This is valuable data, being collected in a relatively unobtrusive way, with an opt-out program that came with your pass (at least on the east cost, EZpass gives you a mylar bag when you sign up, in case you don't want to use it or are paranoid). Let's be glad that for once, the government is doing something in a technologically intelligent, and efficient manner.

    Okay, so what they're doing is gathering traffic data, which they destroy after 24 hours, leaving only aggregate data with which they can analyze traffic flow and such. This isn't exactly an invasion of privacy.

    To those people who think that by not having a little pass on, nobody can track you, I point you the toll highways where they just electronically read your license plate in order to charge you your toll, instead of bothering with an electronic tag, or the occasional murder case where they manage to find photos of the suspect paying a toll somewhere, despite the fact that the suspect wasn't using an electronic tracking tag.

  • by nucal ( 561664 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:21PM (#4041968)
    According to the article:

    Project leaders at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission say they're not interested in the movements of individual drivers, and have gone to great lengths to protect privacy, including encrypting the serial number of each transponder as its location is transmitted. They promise to keep this data separate from the identities of FasTrak users and other information needed to make automatic monthly deductions from their bank or credit card accounts.

    "We're not tracking or trying to follow any individual car, just the overall traffic flow," TravInfo project manager Michael Berman said. "We're really trying to bend over backward to make sure we don't know."

    But it feels like they are spying on me...

  • diddlydummmm...let's just wait a liiitlee while...while the connection buiiilds...*Living easy, living free*, what was the password again, ohhh, right *Asking nothing, leave me be*... now let's just get this image rendered... *Going down, party time*...all right, now it's beginning to show *My friends are gonna be there too* , ok, there's congestion, lemme see... right... right BEHIND me! *I'm on the highway to hell...*
  • but I just can't be. Of course they are just trying to desensitize us to this kind of invasion of privacy, but so what. It seems pretty inevitable that we are going to have to start living more like Europeans anyway. Except for the surrendering to Germany every few years part.
  • by XianDeath ( 543687 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:26PM (#4042004)
    This could lead to a whole new sport involving low flying jets. Image how the data would look after factoring in a couple "cars" traveling upwards of 250 - 400mph.
    • > This could lead to a whole new sport involving low flying jets. Image how the data would look after factoring in a couple "cars" traveling upwards of 250 - 400mph.

      That data would probably be thrown out as "impossible for cars to achieve".

      It would, however, be pretty hilarious to cruise up and down a highway at 150-200 mph in a Cessna with a bag full of transcievers and Pringles cans (to improve the range).

      I think you'd need to get the range up to over 500+ feet, as flying at treetop level over a highway is probably gonna land you in hot water with the FAA. (And to fly like that in the middle of the night, when the data trackers would be most likely to believe that a band of Ferrari-owning nuts is hauling ass up and down the highway, is even less safe.)

      But it'd sure be a funny hack :)

  • forgery or serial number modification ? It would seem a potentialy profitable area, or just for shits and giggles would it be illegal to manufacture devices which respoond and broadcast bogus data to the system IF you never tried to cross a bridge for free ?? If you can't beat the system, flood it with crap...Imagine the perplexed look on the faces of the traffic people when the system reports gridlock numbers on I880 and traffic is flowing smoothly, or as smoothly as it ever does :) Imagine if there were 50 cars out there broadcasting the same number all over the state at the same time at different speeds.
  • If they really want to track people mandate a chip in their hands. That way they know exactly who is in the car and when.
  • by Neil Watson ( 60859 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:30PM (#4042039) Homepage
    Driving is a privilege, not a right. In order to gain that privilege you must expect to give up some privacy in order to protect the public.
    • must expect to give up some privacy in order to protect the public.

      From what? Potholes?

    • Driving is a privilege, not a right.

      Really? Well, then, I guess walking must also be a privilege, yes?

      Oh, so you think walking is a right but driving is a privilege, huh? Then, pray tell, what is the difference between the two? Safety? Then how about riding your bicycle? Is that a right or a privilege?

      Think it's a matter of whether or not you do it on "public" property? Well, "public" property is property owned by us, the people. If there is any property we have the right to use, it's public property. But for you to be consistent in using the "public property" argument, then walking on the sidewalk (public property) must be a privilege, not a right.

      Understand this: the entire point behind the founding of the U.S. was to give the people the right to do any damned thing they please so long as in doing so they don't interfere in the rights of others.

      In just over 200 years we've gone from that to the belief that most things are "privileges" to be given or taken away at the whim of the government (and the corporations that control it) we're now so obviously subservient to. It's enough to make any freedom loving person ill.

  • by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:30PM (#4042047)
    In most states, an unmarked police car can follow you on the road and note your every movement without you even knowing about it or agreeing to it. There is no way to prevent it, and, even more scary, it is not illegal. There is not even an opt-out capability. They can use this information in court against you at any time they chose!!!

    The only way to prevent this loss of privacy is to stay at home, lock the doors, don't use the phone or cable TV, or even pick up your mail. You must remain inside at all times and out of site.

    Only then can you really enjoy your privacy. Of course, you can't enjoy anything else, but who cares. At least you can enjoy your privacy.
    • Only if they suspect you of a crime, and then its only a one shot deal. If they followed you every day (as in the records of the tolls) its an invasion of privacy.
  • Some years back i was involved in the Safe T Cam system in australia, which is basically a road safety system for heavy vehicles. It was actually a little more sinister than tag tracking. It used some logic to identify the "size" of an oncoming vehicle, and for large vehicles it would use OCR to identify the number plate. This was logged along with a time stamp, across the state there were several such points. If the same number plate was identified at two distant points within a certain time, alarms were triggered. These were then used to investigate the driver in questions log books (truck drivers must take certain rest breaks by law, and over large interstate distances, getting from point A to B in a certain time meant they were either speeding, or not taking mandatory breaks or both). While the ticketing wasnt automatic, it is only a short step from it, and for that matter it could theoretically by turned on for all vehicles quite easily..

    Big brother watches...
  • by signe ( 64498 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:33PM (#4042068) Homepage
    Quite simply, any jurisdiction that even has a fraction of a brain will not use an electronic toll system to issue tickets. If they do, people will stop using the electronic toll system. It's just that simple. The toll authority has just as much of an interest in having people use the electronic toll system as people do in using it to save time. More people using the electronic system means fewer people employed taking tolls and less traffic. They won't jeopardize that.

    As far as tracking people using the transponders, I don't know that it's that bad a thing. Like they said, you can always avoid tracking by putting your transponder in a foil bag, and they're even going to provide them upon request (It's not a pain in the ass. I have two transponders, and they're only on the windshield when I am going through a tollbooth, because I have a convertible). That should show goodwill, at the very least. And California does have some of the worst traffic in the country. Any additional info on how it moves (or doesn't) is probably going to go a long way towards making it better.

    • Two points.
      1) Could they require use of transponder?
      2) They could encode time data on the tickets so that not using the transponder wouldn't gain you anything.
      • 1) How are they going to do that with out of state drivers and the like? Unless there is a single ETC system for the country and you don't need a credit card to get a transponder, that's not going to happen.

        2) Yes, but that requires a toll system that uses tickets. Most toll systems don't (at least in my experience). A ticket system like that requires greater overhead, because you need both entrance and exit tolls.

  • If you can take them down and not have them track you... how is this now an invasion of privacy? I mean you could just not have one (or do as another user suggested and ride a bike).

    I mean it must be such an inconvenience to do a way with this convenience but c'mon!

    A person can't blame invasion of privacy on such a blatant example of laziness.
  • When I worked for the NYC Transit Authority, I once saw a demonstration of a similar system they were demoing using the EZ-Pass. One of the features was that the system purposefully ignored the EZ-Pass owner's identity when culling the statistical data. It seemed a bit silly to me since your identity can still going to be discovered by simply looking in the billing database instead, but at least they had the right attitude.

    FYI, MetroCards are a little more private since there's no way to match up a serial number with an individual unless you pay by credit card, have a picture ID MetroCard (e.g., Seniors, Disabled, student, etc.), or are found with the card in your possession.
  • exactly would this info be *really* useful? I mean - yes I know that it would be able to show that John D. Rapist drove over the Golden Gate bridge at precisely 11:12pm last night with Suzy Victim in his trunk blah blah....

    but thats not very much information.

    the thing that makes this even less of a worry (in this specific instance) is that very very few people actually travel through tolls daily (as compared with the population of the country) and those that do make up the 95% "repeat offenders" (people who travel across the bridge every single day)

    I live in the south bay - I am surrounded by toll bridges - but I very very rarely cross them. If I do its on my way to tahoe where I pay the 2 bux to continue on after crossing the Benicia bridge.

    Other than that I might make a trip every other month or so across the bay bridge... but for the most part my entire travel corridor is I-280....

    so aside from Big Brother is tracking your every move - which is a Bad Thing (TM) - this doesnt warrant any concern on my part - at least until they start tracking my moves through embeded chips in my drivers license.
  • by bons ( 119581 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:46PM (#4042178) Homepage Journal
    More people who appear to be tollway violators because they didn't pull their transponder out soon enough.

    Transponder mod chips for random serial numbers.

    People on cell phones pulling out transponders as they try to get through the booth.

    People setting up their own silent tracking antennas and keeping all information.

    Transponder mod chips with serial numbers belonging to people tracked with the previous method.

    Beowolf transponder clusters to make it look like you're a traveling traffic jam.

  • by alanjstr ( 131045 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:47PM (#4042183) Homepage
    If you're paranoid, they'll give you a mylar storage bag for free. Otherwise, the serial numbers will be encrpyted and seperate from the data. Not only that, but "All record of serials numbers stored in electronic files will be destroyed daily, leaving only general averages and patterns for later study," Berman said.
  • by naloxone ( 142847 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @04:57PM (#4042246)
    Houston has its own traffic tracking system [] that operates in a similar [] fashion. When I first realized that they were using the toll-tags to calculate this, I became concerned about the privacy issues (especially given that this use is technically a violation of the license agreement []). So I called a friend of mine at the Texas Transportation Institute and asked about it.

    And lo and behold, they actually turn out to take the privacy aspect very seriously. When an EZ-Tag (TM) passes under a sensor, it gets assigned an id. When it passes under the next sensor, it calculates the speed, adds it to the database with this generated id (not the toll tag number). And then it assigns it a new ID for the trip to the next sensor. Thus, TTI is incapable of knowing, even under threat of subpoena, the identity of any car passing down the highway or the route of any single vehicle beyond any single highway segment. The entire system is designed to prevent it.
  • really huh? is it *that* much a problem to use cash?

    with a toll transponder you have to slow down to like 5mph *anyway*, not like certain (fairly old) VW commercial showing somebody in a passat zooming by at 40.

    cash is not going away anytime soon -- there are always people from out-of state who have no transponders, and then there are trucks with multi-axles etc.

    i would see that as a much more permanent solution than "put it in the glove box" whatever. in the end -- which one gives you less trouble? taking the transponder out from the passenger side every time you pass a toll, and worry about privacy issues, or simply take out your wallet when you pass a toll?
  • I don't know how the transponders are distro'd in California, but with New York's EZpass, (and I'm sure any other EZpass coverage areas) we receive the device in a metal-oxide "static-free" bag, of which we are informed, "If you do not wish to use your EZpass for a toll, place the device in the metal-oxide bag provided and place in glove box."

    So the simple solution: Leave it on your window for the toll, remove it after leaving the booths, and replace it when you need to leave the highway...
  • by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @05:30PM (#4042508) Journal
    The traffic sensor system, which should begin operating next month, will make it possible to provide realtime information about some of the nation's worst congestion to drivers through their cell phones, over the airwaves and on the Internet, and gather better data for transportation planners.
    In theory, it can only be effective if it does not provide drivers with the real-time data.

    Let's say this system goes into effect, and it can track traffic in real time and provide that data to the people who are causing the traffic. Everyone on the road figures he's smarter than the drivers around him (I can confirm this mentality is the norm in Northern California, where this is being implemented). Drivers on US 101 simultaneously get a report from their cell phones that they're facing bumper-to-bumper traffic from Moffett Field to University Ave, and people respond by getting off the highway and flooding Middlefield Road, which runs parallel to 101. Only this causes Middlefield to become even more congested than 101 (which is still congested because Middlefield just can't handle that much traffic). So some people abandon Middlefield to go back to 101, causing more problems, while a steady stream of cars begins to work its way through the side streets around Middlefield. The end result is that no one really gets to their destination any faster (this actually increases travel time for many people as they hop between routes).

    More importantly, the data becomes useless. If the drivers had not been supplied with the raw traffic information, they would have followed predictable traffic patterns that could be studied to determine where roads need to be widened or otherwise changed (any Bay Area commuters familiar with the northern end of 85 can already tell you where roads need to be changed). Since the otherwise sheep-like traffic now has thousands of minds of its own, the result is chaotic traffic in which patterns constantly change unpredictably as people try to adapt. Therefore patterns cannot be studied and the flow of traffic will not improve.

    Ideally, the system should analyze the patterns without providing raw data to the drivers and suggest that drivers whose license numbers end in 4 or 8 take Middlefield, drivers whose license numbers end in 5, 6 or 7 should take 280 if possible, and everyone else should stay on 101. Intelligently-managed traffic is better than chaotic traffic.

  • by dutky ( 20510 ) on Friday August 09, 2002 @05:31PM (#4042514) Homepage Journal
    I work for one of the two main ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) companies and there is a reason that the state and local agencies don't try to track speed using the toll records: they wound never be able to make the speeding tickets stick. There are basically three problems with trying to issue speeding tickets based on toll transponder data:
    1. The date and time on the toll transactions are not very exact. We try to keep all the computers in the lanes synchronized, but we don't do that great a job of it. If speeding tickets were issued to clients based on the computed travel time between entry and exit, the clients could simply claim that the entry and exit times weren't correct (and they'd be right).

    2. The toll tag doesn't tell us anything about who was driving the car, or, for that matter, what car was being driven (unless there is a violation in the toll lane itself, in which case we take a picture of the back bumper, so we can identify the vehicle and license plate. We still can't tell who was driving).

      With the red light cameras, the ticket is assessed against the vehicle (like a parking ticket) rather than against the driver's license (as with most speeding tickets) and the red light cameras get some proof that the ticketed vehicle was involved. With a calculated speeding ticket, however, there is no such proof. Again, the accused could simply say that neither they, nor their car, was on the road at that time, and there'd be no way to disprove it.

    3. Finally, local agencies really don't want to piss of their clients. The reason for using the toll tags is to both increase collected toll revenue (there are lots of ways to lose toll revenue when cash is involved) and to better control traffic. If you penalize people for using the toll tags, you lose the ability to do the stuff you really want to do.

    There is one other technical issue with trying to issue speeding tickets based on ETC data: most ETC systems don't collect enough data to make the calculation.

    There are, basically, two types of toll facilities: boundry systems, where you get charged a toll each time you cross a boundry, and closed-loop systems, where you get charged based on the length of travel in the toll system. You can only calculate speed in a closed loop system, when both your entry and exit are recorded. Many toll systems are only boundry systems.

    Even on a closed loop system, you can only calculate the average speed in the system. Under heavy traffic conditions, the average speed is likely never to exceed the posted speed limit! (this is the sad truth about speeding: it rarely benefits the speed but, occasionally, it is a great harm to an innocent bystander) You can pretty easily wipe out the extra time you gained by speeding while waiting to at the exit toll plaza.

    Note, some agencies do issue fines for speeding thorugh the toll lanes, but that is a safety issue. None of the agencies that we work with issue actual speeding tickets based on speed in the toll lane. Also, many of the agencies maintain a constant police presence at the toll plazas, in order to go after violators. This was true even before there were ETC systems.

    The ETC tags are pretty good for collecting information on what happens at the toll plazas. We can even get a fair amount of agregate information about the entire toll facility itself, based on plaza activity. But it is very difficult to extract information about individuals based on ETC data. The agencies seem to have a pretty good understanding of what the ETC data is good for and what legal limitations they are under.

    One example to illustrate this point: Some of the original ETC installations took pictures of violators from in front of the vehicle, including a picture of the driver and passenger in the front seat. Now, however, we only take pictures of the front and rear bumpers, specifically avoiding either front or rear windshield.

    The reason is a legal one. Early on in the history of ETC systems a law suit was brought against one of the local agencies because a driver had violated the toll lane and had his picture taken. The violation notice was mailed to his house, where it was opened by his wife. His wife was quite upset to find a picture of her husband and a strange woman driving in his car in the middle of the day!

    The local agencies are now prevented, legally, from invading a driver's privacy by photographing the driver or passengers of a vehicle passing thorugh an ETC system. (We still get some interesting pictures, but only when the driver's have gone out of their way to make themselves visible to the lane cameras)

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!