On road to electronic tolling, concerns over drivers’ privacy arise
As the debate about whether to enact tolling along Connecticut’s highways rages on, a concern beyond the cost to taxpayers is being raised: will drivers’ privacy be invaded after data on where and when they pass under the electronic gantries is collected.
“Aggregated data creates a data dossier on every driver in Connecticut,” said David McGuire, executive director of ACLU Connecticut. “That’s very valuable commercial data that tells a lot about a person’s habits. We’re not taking a position on tolls — in favor or against — as a proposal on its own, but we do urge legislators to bring on very meaningful policies before any legislation is created. These databases are very appealing because they contain lots of information on lots of people.”
Tolling gantries, which use license plates and transponders to record driver information and digitally assess tolls, can track where, when and how often drivers pass under tolls. In other states, where tolling has been practiced long before digitization, the collection and storage of the data has been the subject of debates on privacy rights, and in some instances where the data has been considered public record, it’s been used as a political tool or as evidence in court cases.
But, while other states have grappled with data privacy and been forced to backtrack as technology has evolved long after tolling was already implemented, McGuire said Connecticut has an opportunity to get ahead of the issue and address privacy concerns before the gantries are ever built.
“When you think about tolls no one thinks about the privacy aspect, but since they’re considering building a high tech toll system, now is the time to think about this,” McQuire said. “Not after it’s installed because then it will be very difficult. We’re living a very different digital age and we need to catch up, but this provides an opportunity where we can set the standard from the outset.”
McGuire said the ACLU has been in communication with members of Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration to urge the governor and legislators to include provisions regarding data privacy in any legislation related to tolls. He said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been receptive to addressing the concerns.
“We’ll continue having conversations with ACLU, other states and stakeholders to ensure robust privacy protections are in place,” said Maribel La Luz, Lamont’s director of communications.
The ACLU has recommended tolling data in the state not be kept for more than 48 hours, and that the data not be considered public record.
At least one of the bills introduced in the legislature related to tolling has been updated to include language that would address some of the privacy concerns raised by the ACLU, but would not limit the time frame for data retention to two days. The legislation would prohibit the state or toll operators from selling or using any toll customer data for commercial purposes “unrelated to the charging, collection and enforcement of tolls, administrative fees and penalties.”
The bill would allow the release of toll customer information and other data that does not directly or indirectly identify a toll customer for research purposes only if authorized by the state Department of Transportation. Data retention would be set at one year, except in some cases such as an administrative or court proceeding requiring the data to be kept longer.
Toll customer information and data would not be public record under the legislation.
While McGuire said he doesn’t believe it’s necessary for the state to keep the data longer than a couple of days, Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the department recommended the data be kept for one year.
“We have said in the past that these concerns should be taken into consideration under any toll legislation,” Everhart said. “We had recommended that the data be held for one year so that frequent-user discounts could be calculated ... We also recommended that toll data not be considered ‘prima facie’ evidence in court proceedings and that the data be exempt from FOI laws.”
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