Thursday, June 13, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #112 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week: Privacy? What's that?

It's time for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

You know, sometimes I think when you ask a government official - at the federal or even the state level - about privacy, they'll think you mean their privacy, their ability to keep secrets, not your ability to do it. It's becoming a mixture of amazing and frightening how cavalierly government officials will propose programs that involve more and more tracking of individuals without, it sometimes seems, even realizing the implications of what they are saying.

The latest example of this is the plan by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to no longer accept cash at Tobin Bridge* tolls beginning early next year. Over the next several years, the Department hopes to transition to electronic-only payment systems on the Massachusetts Turnpike and at the Logan International Airport tunnels as well.

And oh, aren't they all a-flutter about all the benefits accruing to us, the driving and riding public, as a result of this! It will reduce congestion! You'll be able to fly right through the toll plaza without even slowing down! Isn't that wonderful? Not like having to slow down to a crummy 15 miles per hour or even to - gasp! - have to stop for a toll!

The new system does away with toll booths entirely and replaces them with overhead sensors that can read your E-ZPass. The E-ZPass system, currently used in 15 states, allows commuters to pass through toll booths without stopping. An electronic scanner identifies an E-ZPass transponder in the vehicle and charges the cost of the toll to the driver’s account, which is linked to a debit or credit card.

Wait - what if you don't have an E-ZPass? Well, yeah, says State Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey, the plan will necessitate a wholesale shift to E-ZPasses. But that's no big deal, we'll provide them for free! See? Problem solved!

Okay, what if you still don't have an E-ZPass? Again, no problem: Cameras will capture the license plates of drivers who don’t have passes, and they will receive a bill for the toll in the mail.

The state estimates that once the $120 million project is fully implemented, the state will save around $50 million a year - most of which will come from firing three-quarters of the people currently working the toll booths.

So let's run it down: In order to provide you the enormous, incalculable benefit of not having to slow down at a toll booth, the state is proposing a program that involves throwing 300 people out of work, essentially requiring you to open a credit or debit account to which the state has access with the alternative of having to effectively pay a penalty (the postage cost of returning a bill for a toll), and - and here's that privacy part - enabling the state to create, if it chooses, a database of every car that uses the MassPike, the Tobin Bridge, or the Logan tunnels, when it did, and where it was on the MassPike when it did.

The program itself I think is bad enough. The idea that it enables the state to build that sort of citizen-tracking database is an outrage - and the fact that state officials may honestly have not even thought of this when they proposed it is an even bigger one.

*For those of you unfamiliar with the area, the Tobin Bridge carries US Route 1 over the Mystic River between Charlestown and Chelsea, just north of Boston.


No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');