I saw this one coming.

The larger cities in Texas have been going a little bit nuts with the whole toll road concept for a while now.  From the outside of the system, at least in Austin, it looks as if there was a decision made to build new roads only if those new roads could be paid for with a toll road system.  Those toll systems involve setting up an account with some agency of at least pseudo-governmental nature; you pay money into the account, they send you a toll tag, and then when you drive through one of the new automated toll booths their cameras take a picture of the car, scan the picture for the toll tag, read the id, and then charge the amount of the toll to your account.

Simple, right?

Sure -- but the privacy implications are horrifying.

Realize that this system creates a detailed database of where everyone using a toll road goes -- in some cases down to which exit from the toll road is taken.  This information is in the hands of a government agency and can be easily queried.  Worse, it's stored for everyone who uses the roads, and the queries happen over all past data.  So rather than deciding someone is a "person of interest" and putting a full-time team on following them, the government can simply query the database to see who has been where. 

I decided that was enough to prevent me from signing up and getting into the system.  But, of course, it gets worse.  Houston has now decided to take things to the next step:

Harris County Toll Road Authority cameras are now on the lookout for more than just those drivers who blow through EZ Tag lanes without paying. County authorities promise new, upgraded cameras can help catch murderers and other violent criminals.

The cameras have the capability to search their databases and issue alerts to county dispatchers when a wanted criminal crosses their lenses.

Right now, it's just scanning license plates.  It won't be long before someone gets the idea to put facial recognition systems into the database, too -- then link in imagery from red light cameras, surveilance cameras, and so on. 

The problem is not the idea of catching criminals.  The problem is that the data is collected on everyone

This entry was published Mon Apr 07 13:15:30 CDT 2008 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2008-04-07 13:15:30.0. [Tweet]

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