My wife and I recently enjoyed our UberX ride from JFK to Manhattan and opted to take the Holland Tunnel. Our driver (who was very friendly, greeted us with cold, bottled waters, and so on… damn, I love Uber!) took his E-ZPass out of the glove compartment and placed it on the dash just for the toll before returning it back into storage. I didn’t give it much thought, as I do the same with my I-Pass in Chicago just for added security, as not to add an invitation to a potential theft.
But now I learn that our driver may have had other concerns… privacy concerns.
Forbes.com released an interesting article this week which included videos of a hacked E-ZPass being “read” by non-toll sensors around the New York area.
Nevertheless, according to the article, the New York Department of Transportation openly acknowledges the reading of such devices as a method of traffic tracking and populating such services as the New York Traffic Data Viewer.
So…is this another layer of the secret NSA-type data collection method pulled back for all the public to see? Or, while it may be a shock to some or many E-ZPass users, has it really been a secret?
Since at least the summer of 2011, New York City has utilized such device tracking after it first unveiled the real-time traffic management system in Midtown Manhattan. The system, known as “Midtown in Motion“, first implemented at least 100 microwave sensors, 32 traffic video cameras and E-ZPass readers at 23 intersections to measure traffic volumes, congestion and record vehicle travel times in the approximately 110-square block area with the goal of improving traffic flow on the city’s most congested streets.
According to a report in Traffic Technology Today, the combined data is transmitted wirelessly to NYC’s Traffic Management Center in Long Island City, allowing engineers to quickly identify congestion choke points as they occur and remotely adjust Midtown traffic signal patterns to clear traffic jams.
NYC Department of Transportation engineers are using recently upgraded traffic signal control systems to adjust the traffic lights. The real-time traffic flow information will be made available to motorists and to app developers for use on PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) and smart phones. The wireless system is made possible through the use of the New York City Wireless Network (NYCWiN); a wireless network developed and managed by the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
The program uses Advanced Solid State Traffic Controllers installed at signalized intersections that controls the traffic signals at the intersection wirelessly. They allow engineers to switch more easily between: a simultaneous signal pattern, where all the signals on the avenue turn green or red at the same time; and a traffic signal progression, which lets vehicles traveling at the speed limit encounter green lights as they drive along a corridor. It enables engineers to use which is the most effective pattern, based on measured traffic conditions.
E-ZPass terms and conditions do include a brief paragraph on privacy, while remaining very broad and flexible for third-party and governmental access to the information:
E-ZPass respects the privacy of all Account holders. Account information will not be disclosed to third parties without your consent except as required or permitted by law and the policies of E-ZPass and the entities providing E-ZPass services.
What camp are you in?
As further “eye in the sky” tracking, even without the use of RFID sensors, becomes more prevelant all over the United States (e.g. see police tracking of license plates),will you give more pause as to how and what the government, or even private entities, collect about you and your actions?
Or do you just accept it as part of our modern world, our high(er)-tech way of life in a developed world, and carry on with how you live your life?