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Enhanced toll taking technology sparks privacy fears

Posted by Ralph Ranalli September 24, 2007 10:24 AM


Toll booths in Massachusetts - and across the nation - could be heading the way of manual typewriters and vinyl records.

Instead of fumbling for change or navigating through special lanes in transponder-equipped cars, drivers may soon have to do little more than cruise on and off highways passing under a metal beam spanning the entire width of the road. At the end of the month they'd receive a bill, much like any other utility bill. Except this bill would log each time they entered or exited a highway system, how far they traveled and how much they owed.

The idea is called "open road tolling" and it's a key recommendation of a new report on ways Massachusetts can close a multi-billion gap in transportation funding over the next two decades.

It's more than just an idea. In Melbourne, Toronto and Israel, open road tolling has been a reality for years. States like Texas, Florida and Illinois are already starting to employ the technology.

While the authors of a new report on Massachusetts' transportation funding dilemma concede open road tolling - something they envision for all highways, not just the Massachusetts Turnpike - is still years off, the plan is already drawing fire. Chief among the early critics are privacy activists who say they worry about any plan that allows the government to essentially track the movements of citizens.

Ann Lambert, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said she worries about information being stored indefinitely in databanks.

"They clearly haven't thought through the need for privacy safeguards and the flushing of information after the data isn't needed," Lambert said.

-- AP

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