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EZPass tracking is unacceptable

Editorial | No reason why our devices should be read outside of tolls

Imagine the sanctity of your privacy coming down to a moo.

That’s what reality is starting to look like according to a New Jersey hacker’s eye-opening experiment. As a way to explore how much privacy our vehicles have on the roads, he tweaked his EZPass and connected it to a cow toy so that it would moo and light up every time it was being read.

Spoiler alert: It mooed in places with no tollbooths in sight.

The N.J. resident, who goes by the pseudonym Puking Monkey (hey, we can dig it), took his new gadget for a spin around the city. And we find it extremely troubling that his EZPass was read several times within the short drive from Times Square to Madison Square Garden (FYI: there are no tolls between the two locations.)

None of us — you included — have ever signed on to have our EZPasses tracked outside tollbooths. According to Forbes.com, EZPass non-toll tracking is nowhere to be found in the service’s Terms and Conditions. And it’s not like EZPass comes with an iPhone-esque push notification asking our permission to disclose our location. New York’s Department of Transportation never informed us this was happening, either — which we think is what makes this all even more wrong.

Apparently, NYDOT claims the EZPass readers were put up on highways throughout the state years ago as part of an initiative called Midtown in Motion, which gathers live traffic flow information for the city’s traffic management center. That doesn’t tell us anything about how much information is gathered or how long it’s saved for. Plus, not all drivers have EZPass, so it’s difficult to imagine how tracking passes will accurately convey traffic congestion. NYDOT’s response also seems to overlook the fact that another recent program in New York, called the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, is establishing intense surveillance measures around the city.

There’s something to be said about the fact that the government continues to grow more intrusive on our privacy. Some might respond by asking why we should care about being tracked when we are publicly driving, or why we should be concerned if we’re doing nothing wrong. And the answer is that it’s not about personal preference, it’s about the rights we’re afforded by the constitution that are constantly being eroded in the name of security.

With everything that has come to light about the National Security Agency’s exploits, it’s difficult to believe that our geolocational information is solely being used for traffic reasons. And even if it is, all the secretive and predatory governmental behavior we are subject to only serves to breed mistrust when something like this EZPass development surfaces.

Even if NYDOT did admit to invasive tracking, national security can no longer be an excuse to infringe on our rights. We are allowing more and more of our liberties be infringed upon in the name of patriotism, and there is something fundamentally wrong with that. If we heard about any of this happening in another country, we’d condescendingly scoff at how crazy and totalitarian it sounds.

Initiatives that benefit society are one thing, and ones that step on our constitutional toes are another — we cannot continue to self-actualize Big Brother.

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