NYCLU: Transportation Agencies Are Using E-ZPass for More Than Just Tolls

April 22, 2015 | Liam Mathews

E-ZPass is a system that allows drivers to pay tolls via an electronic tag that’s read by scanners at toll booths in order to expedite the payment process (shorter lines, no digging for change). You would assume that they’d only be located at toll booths, since that’s what they’re for, but The New York Civil Liberties Union obtained the locations of all E-ZPass readers in New York City, and many of them are nowhere near tollbooths.

ezpassnyc_april22_2015Image: NYCLU

In Midtown, they’re on almost every block.

ezpassmidtown_april22_2015Image: NYCLU

The NYCLU filed a Freedom of Information Law request last year after taking a car ride with signal detector.

The NYCLU found that city and state transportation agencies have set up E-ZPass readers at non-toll booth locations in order to conduct traffic studies. NYC DOT told them in a statement:

“E-ZPass readers are a cost-effective way of ‘detecting segment travel times via matching reader observations at the ends of the segments, sending the raw data back to actually do the matches, and to generate the travel time observations.'”

The NYCLU notes that this is a potential invasion of privacy: “E-ZPass readers – and the accompanying cameras and microwave sensors – installed today for traffic studies can easily become part of an infrastructure for expanded surveillance,” they wrote. The NYCLU claims that city and state transportation agencies don’t have strong enough privacy policies, and need to do more to make sure data collected is secured and not accessible for unwarranted law-enforcement purposes.

(Photo: the idealist)