Mileage Taxes, Automated Tolls and Civil Liberties:
The J. Edgar Hoover Memorial Parkway
"Now they've got the whole country sectioned off and you can't move without a form."
-- Harry Tuttle, from the film BRAZIL (1985)
on this page:
- we need a moratorium on more traffic cameras
- Hummers and hybrids: mileage tax to subsidize SUVs
- geoslavery: using GPS to monitor everyone 24/7
- Totalitarian Information Awareness is tracking our movements
The Real ID Act hopes to require a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip in drivers license, creating a de facto National ID card.
However, competency tests are not required for renewing drivers licenses. Road safety would require driver testing for license renewal, particularly about pedestrian and bicycle safety issues, and issues related to "road rage" and excessive speed.
|Civil Liberties and Transportation Surveillance|
European Parliament – Luxembourg, 6 January 1998 – Directorate
General for Research
Scientific and Technological Options Assessment – An Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control
archived at http://www.cryptome.org/stoa-atpc.htm
Vehicle Recognition Systems
... A huge range of surveillance technologies has evolved, including the night vision goggles discussed in 3 above; parabolic microphones to detect conversations over a kilometre away (see Fig. 18); laser versions marketed by the German company PK Electronic, can pick up any conversation from a closed window in line of sight; the Danish Jai stroboscopic camera (Fig. 19) which can take hundreds of pictures in a matter of seconds and individually photograph all the participants in a demonstration or March; and the automatic vehicle recognition systems which can identify a car number plate then track the car around a city using a computerised geographic information system. (Fig.20) Such systems are now commercially available, for example, the Talon system introduced in 1994 by UK company Racal at a price of £2000 per unit. The system is trained to recognise number plates based on neural network technology developed by Cambridge Neurodynamics, and can see both night and day. Initially it has been used for traffic monitoring but its function has been adapted in recent years to cover security surveillance and has been incorporated in the "ring of steel" around London. The system can then record all the vehicles that entered or left the cordon on a particular day.
Such surveillance systems raise significant issues of accountability particularly when transferred to authoritarian regimes. The cameras ... in Tiananmen Square were sold as advanced traffic control systems by Siemens Plessey. Yet after the 1989 massacre of students, there followed a witch hunt when the authorities tortured and interrogated thousands in an effort to ferret out the subversives. The Scoot surveillance system with USA made Pelco camera were used to faithfully record the protests. the images were repeatedly broadcast over Chinese television offering a reward for information, with the result that nearly all the transgressors were identified. Again democratic accountability is only the criterion which distinguishes a modern traffic control system from an advanced dissident capture technology. Foreign companies are exporting traffic control systems to Lhasa in Tibet, yet Lhasa does not as yet have any traffic control problems. The problem here may be a culpable lack of imagination.
“that [surveillance] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology ...
“I don't want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency [NSA] and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”
-- Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho), 1975, quoted in James Bamford, “The Puzzle Palace”
“If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.”
- George W. Bush, December 18, 2000
|Maryland's highway surveillance systems|
Cameras scan license plates for stolen cars
By Melissa Harris
Originally published April 3, 2006
As her marked car crawled through the parking lot, Detective Kelly Tibbs' new laptop beeped like a supermarket scanner. Two cameras, positioned like crab eyes on the cruiser's roof, snapped digital pictures of hundreds of license plates, and with each beep, the laptop checked the images against an FBI list of stolen cars.
Such cameras - called Mobile Plate Hunters - are replacing the laborious eyeball-and-keystroke method of checking for stolen cars, letting busy officers rely instead on an automated scan that takes less than a second.
Already in widespread use in London and Italy, automatic number plate recognition is a technology on the verge of exploding in the Baltimore-Washington area, fueled in places by funds from the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Howard and Anne Arundel counties deploy one each. Prince George's County and the District of Columbia have ordered more than a dozen of the cameras, which have been in use in Prince George's since August and the district since January.
Baltimore police are soliciting bids for a system that would work with the city's existing network of street surveillance cameras. And as early as this summer's vacation rush, Maryland Transportation Authority Police hope to add the cameras to the Bay Bridge as part of a pilot project with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Stationary cameras, such as those envisioned for Baltimore and the Bay Bridge, could alert nearby officers if an offending vehicle - one bearing a license plate registered to a wanted criminal, suspected terrorist or car thief - goes past.
"The uses are as limitless as your imagination," said Lt. John McKissick, director of Howard County's emergency preparedness division. "We're just in the infancy of this project, but already it saves us money and manpower."
Although proponents say the technology eventually will deny all but the most clever of criminals access to roads, privacy advocates warn that the plate hunters mark another step toward a society in which police can track a person's every move.
"Normally, your license plate number only becomes relevant when you're involved in an accident, pulled over by police or when your car is stolen," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "This technology changes that. ... It's a new form of surveillance."
The technology, which Tibbs demonstrated in the parking lot of Howard County police headquarters, was developed in Italy and used by the Italian postal service. Postcards would zip along a conveyer belt, the cameras would read them, and the computer would sort them.
"The engineers in Italy realized that if they could read Bulgarian postcards handwritten with pencil at high speeds, license plates would be a piece of cake," said Mark Windover, president of Remington-Elsag, a partnership between the U.S. gun manufacturer and the Italian postal-technology company, which sold a plate hunter to Howard County for $26,0000.
The plate hunters use infrared light to "read" as many as 900 license plates per minute zooming by at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour in the rain or dark, McKissick said.
Infrared light illuminates the plate, the camera snaps a picture and the computer converts it into digital characters - ABC 123, for example - using optical character recognition. Strapping two cameras to a roof allows the system to go through a mall parking lot, checking plates on both sides of the police car.
Each night, local police departments download FBI data to in-car laptops. When a scanned license plate matches one in the FBI database, the computer triggers an alarm, and the screen blinks red "alert" signs. Before officers can make an arrest, they must check the accuracy of the alert because the database lags a day behind, and the system does not distinguish among states.
"In one block in Washington, I recovered six sets of stolen tags and a stolen motorcycle using the reader," said state police Detective Sgt. George Jacobs, assistant commander of the Washington-area vehicle enforcement unit. "It's just amazing that there are areas out there like that. It's a great tool because manually, it would have taken me several hours to type in the tags."
Though the primary purpose of the technology is to recover stolen vehicles, Howard County and other jurisdictions plan to eventually use the cameras for surveillance.
McKissick said he envisions placing cameras around potential terrorist targets and linking them to neighboring counties' systems. For instance, if the same license plate passes emergency communications towers in Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, the system could alert police in all three areas.
The technology also could be used to enforce laws or court orders that keep sexual predators away from schools or domestic abusers away from spouses.
Already, when Tibbs learns of an Amber Alert, she can enter the tag number manually into her laptop and search for the car. The system also is linked to the FBI's "violent gangs and terrorism organization file," though Howard County is not yet using it because the plate hunter is still new to the department, McKissick said.
"We want to be able to look at offenders with another set of eyes," said Chief Gary W. McLhinney of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, which is working to secure a pilot program for the technology at the Bay Bridge.
McKissick and other officers dismiss concerns that the cameras invade drivers' privacy. McKissick said the machine is "strictly a numbers game," enabling officers to do more of what they already do.
Jacobs said the system does not discriminate and that the computer does not list a tag owner's information unless it sounds an alert on the car. Without the computer, officers choose which license plates they check, lacking the time to manually enter every one they see.
"There can be no discrimination," Jacobs said, "because the machine picks and runs every tag it sees."
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun
|Britain's auto Panopticon|
Britain will be first country to monitor every car journey
From 2006 Britain will be the first country where every journey by every
car will be monitored
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Published: 22 December 2005
Britain is to become the first country in the world where the movements of all vehicles on the roads are recorded. A new national surveillance system will hold the records for at least two years.
Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.
The network will incorporate thousands of existing CCTV cameras which are being converted to read number plates automatically night and day to provide 24/7 coverage of all motorways and main roads, as well as towns, cities, ports and petrol-station forecourts.
By next March a central database installed alongside the Police National Computer in Hendon, north London, will store the details of 35 million number-plate "reads" per day. These will include time, date and precise location, with camera sites monitored by global positioning satellites.
Already there are plans to extend the database by increasing the storage period to five years and by linking thousands of additional cameras so that details of up to 100 million number plates can be fed each day into the central databank.
Senior police officers have described the surveillance network as possibly the biggest advance in the technology of crime detection and prevention since the introduction of DNA fingerprinting.
But others concerned about civil liberties will be worried that the movements of millions of law-abiding people will soon be routinely recorded and kept on a central computer database for years.
The new national data centre of vehicle movements will form the basis of a sophisticated surveillance tool that lies at the heart of an operation designed to drive criminals off the road.
In the process, the data centre will provide unrivalled opportunities to gather intelligence data on the movements and associations of organised gangs and terrorist suspects whenever they use cars, vans or motorcycles.
The scheme is being orchestrated by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and has the full backing of ministers who have sanctioned the spending of £24m this year on equipment.
More than 50 local authorities have signed agreements to allow the police to convert thousands of existing traffic cameras so they can read number plates automatically. The data will then be transmitted to Hendon via a secure police communications network.
Chief constables are also on the verge of brokering agreements with the Highways Agency, supermarkets and petrol station owners to incorporate their own CCTV cameras into the network. In addition to cross-checking each number plate against stolen and suspect vehicles held on the Police National Computer, the national data centre will also check whether each vehicle is lawfully licensed, insured and has a valid MoT test certificate.
"Every time you make a car journey already, you'll be on CCTV somewhere. The difference is that, in future, the car's index plates will be read as well," said Frank Whiteley, Chief Constable of Hertfordshire and chairman of the Acpo steering committee on automatic number plate recognition (ANPR).
"What the data centre should be able to tell you is where a vehicle was in the past and where it is now, whether it was or wasn't at a particular location, and the routes taken to and from those crime scenes. Particularly important are associated vehicles," Mr Whiteley said.
The term "associated vehicles" means analysing convoys of cars, vans or trucks to see who is driving alongside a vehicle that is already known to be of interest to the police. Criminals, for instance, will drive somewhere in a lawful vehicle, steal a car and then drive back in convoy to commit further crimes "You're not necessarily interested in the stolen vehicle. You're interested in what's moving with the stolen vehicle," Mr Whiteley explained.
According to a strategy document drawn up by Acpo, the national data centre in Hendon will be at the heart of a surveillance operation that should deny criminals the use of the roads.
"The intention is to create a comprehensive ANPR camera and reader infrastructure across the country to stop displacement of crime from area to area and to allow a comprehensive picture of vehicle movements to be captured," the Acpo strategy says.
"This development forms the basis of a 24/7 vehicle movement database that will revolutionise arrest, intelligence and crime investigation opportunities on a national basis," it says.
Mr Whiteley said MI5 will also use the database. "Clearly there are values for this in counter-terrorism," he said.
"The security services will use it for purposes that I frankly don't have access to. It's part of public protection. If the security services did not have access to this, we'd be negligent."
|Hummers should pay more than hybrids: GPS to track all cars, all the time, under the guise of a “mileage tax”|
DECLAN MCCULLAGH, CNET, December 5, 2005
Trust federal bureaucrats to take a good idea and transform it into a
frightening proposal to track Americans wherever they drive.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has been handing millions of dollars to state governments for GPS-tracking pilot projects designed to track vehicles wherever they go. So far, Washington state and Oregon have received fat federal checks to figure out how to levy these "mileage-based road user fees."
Now electronic tracking and taxing may be coming to a DMV near you. The Office of Transportation Policy Studies, part of the Federal Highway Administration, is about to announce another round of grants totaling some $11 million. A spokeswoman on Friday said the office is "shooting for the end of the year" for the announcement, and more money is expected for GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking efforts.
In principle, the idea of what bureaucrats like to call "value pricing" for cars makes sound economic sense.
No policy bans police from automatically sending out speeding tickets based on what the GPS data say.
Airlines and hotels have long charged less for off-peak use. Toll roads would be more efficient--in particular, less congested--if they could follow the same model and charge virtually nothing in the middle of the night but high prices during rush hour.
That price structure would encourage drivers to take public transportation, use alternate routes, or leave earlier or later in the day.
The problem, though, is that these "road user fee" systems are being designed and built in a way that strips drivers of their privacy and invites constant surveillance by police, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
Zero privacy protections
Details of the tracking systems vary. But the general idea is that a small GPS device, which knows its location by receiving satellite signals, is placed inside the vehicle.
Some GPS trackers constantly communicate their location back to the state DMV, while others record the location information for later retrieval. (In the Oregon pilot project, it's beamed out wirelessly when the driver pulls into a gas station.)
The problem, though, is that no privacy protections exist. No restrictions prevent police from continually monitoring, without a court order, the whereabouts of every vehicle on the road.
No rule prohibits that massive database of GPS trails from being subpoenaed by curious divorce attorneys, or handed to insurance companies that might raise rates for someone who spent too much time at a neighborhood bar. No policy bans police from automatically sending out speeding tickets based on what the GPS data say.
The Fourth Amendment provides no protection. The U.S. Supreme Court said in two cases, U.S. v. Knotts and U.S. v. Karo, that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy when they're driving on a public street.
The PR offensive
Even more shocking are additional ideas that bureaucrats are hatching. A report prepared by a Transportation Department-funded program in Washington state says the GPS bugs must be made "tamper proof" and the vehicle should be disabled if the bugs are disconnected.
"This can be achieved by building in connections to the vehicle
ignition circuit so that failure to receive a moving GPS signal after
some default period of vehicle operation indicates attempts to defeat
the GPS antenna," the report says.
It doesn't mention the worrisome scenario of someone driving a vehicle with a broken GPS bug--and an engine that suddenly quits half an hour later. But it does outline a public relations strategy (with "press releases and/or editorials" at a "very early stage") to persuade the American public that this kind of contraption would be, contrary to common sense, in their best interest.
One study prepared for the Transportation Department predicts a PR success. "Less than 7 percent of the respondents expressed concerns about recording their vehicle's movements," it says.
That whiff of victory, coupled with a windfall of new GPS-enabled tax dollars, has emboldened DMV bureaucrats. A proposal from the Oregon DMV, also funded by the Transportation Department, says that such a tracking system should be mandatory for all "newly purchased vehicles and newly registered vehicles."
The sad reality is that there are ways to perform "value pricing" for roads while preserving anonymity. You could pay cash for prepaid travel cards, like store gift cards, that would be debited when read by roadside sensors. Computer scientists have long known how to create electronic wallets--using a technique called blind signatures--that can be debited without privacy concerns.
The Transportation Department could require privacy-protective features when handing out grants for pilot projects that may eventually become mandatory. It's now even more important because a new U.S. law ups the size of the grants; the U.K. is planning GPS tracking and per-mile fees ranging between 3 cents and $2.
We'll see. But given the privacy hostility that the Transportation Department and state DMVs have demonstrated so far, don't be too optimistic.
BIG BROTHER COMING UNDER YOUR CAR HOOD
JEFF GRAY, GLOVE AND MAIL, CA- It's the last thing many motorists would want -- a permanent, electronic back-seat driver, forcefully reminding them not to speed. But Transport Canada is road-testing cutting-edge devices that use global positioning satellite technology and a digital speed-limit map to know when a driver is speeding, and to try to make them stop. When a driver hits a certain percentage above the posted speed limit, the device kicks in and makes it difficult to press the accelerator. While the idea appeals to some road-safety experts, even the researcher in charge of the project admits many drivers -- some of whom have shown fierce resistance to photo-radar and red-light cameras -- may balk at the science-fiction scenario of a machine forcing them to apply the brakes. . . In Europe, proponents have said that the technology should be mandatory in all vehicles or that insurance companies might offer discounts to drivers who use it.
BOSTON HERALD - Over the coming year, the T will install automated
fare collection equipment at every subway station and on every bus, allowing
riders to pay easily with taps of special smart cards in their names.
But each transaction with the plastic Charlie Cards will be recorded electronically,
creating a record of where users were at a particular time on a particular
day. Those records could be subpoenaed by cops, courts or even lawyers
in civil cases. "The bottom line is that like other developments
with consumer products and technology, the convenience does have a flip
side. It’s convenience versus having the government be able to track
you," said privacy expert Eric Gertler. . .
The new automated fare system will record where a passenger boards the system and at what time. The system won't capture any data on the rider’s destination. The information will be archived for a year and a half to two years before it’s erased. . .
The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has for years recorded where and when users of the Fas tLane electronic transponders get on and off the toll highway. Unlike the MBTA, the Turnpike’s privacy protections barring outside release of the data without a subpoena are written into state law. "On a fairly regular basis we receive subpoena requests both civil and criminal," Pike spokesman Tom Farmer said.
Satellite toll plan to make drivers pay by the mile
Darling orders nationwide road pricing. Charge of £1.34 a mile on busiest roads
By Francis Elliott, Deputy Political Editor
05 June 2005
British motorists face paying a new charge for every mile they drive in a revolutionary scheme to be introduced within two years.
Drivers will pay according to when and how far they travel throughout the country's road network under proposals being developed by the Government.
Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, revealed that pilot areas will be selected in just 24 months' time as he made clear his determination to press ahead with a national road pricing scheme.
Each of Britain's 24 million vehicles would be tracked by satellite if a variable "pay-as-you-drive" charge replaces the current road tax.
In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Mr Darling warned that unless action is taken now, the country "could face gridlock" within two decades.
Official research suggests national road pricing could increase the capacity of Britain's network by as much as 40 per cent at a stroke, he said.
The rapid uptake of satellite navigational technology in cars is helping to usher in the new "pay-as-you-drive" charge much sooner than had been expected. Figures contained in a government feasibility study have suggested motorists could pay up to £1.34 for each mile they travel during peak hours on the most congested roads.
Although a fully operational national scheme is still considered to be a decade away, Mr Darling said local schemes could be up and running within five years. Manchester is considered a front-runner, with local authorities in the Midlands and London also pressing to be considered for a £2.5bn central fund to introduce the change.
Most of the necessary technology already exists. Lorries will be tracked by satellite and charged accordingly from 2007. The main obstacle to constructing a scheme to track Britain's 24 million private vehicles is public opinion, and Mr Darling is determined to start making the case now.
"You could dance around this for years but every year the problem is getting worse," he said.
"We have got to do everything we can during the course of this Parliament to decide whether or not we go with road pricing. Something of this magnitude will span several parliaments and you need 'buy-in' not just from political parties but also from the general public.
"Drivers have got to see that they benefit," he said, adding that one of the "weaknesses" of the congestion charging scheme introduced in the capital by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was that it delivered a "general benefit not a particular benefit". Motorists could feel they are paying a penalty to support buses they do not use.
The national road-pricing scheme, by contrast, has got to work so there's "something in it for me", said Mr Darling in advance of a keynote speech on the issue this Thursday.
Despite his insistence that the scheme would lead to no overall increase in the level of taxation as road taxes and fuel duties are reduced or abolished, it is bound to prompt fresh claims that Labour is waging a "war on motorists".
Some campaigners, meanwhile, are pressing Mr Darling to introduce new levies on individual roads immediately, using existing microwave technology or tolls. But that would force traffic on to quieter roads while entrenching opposition to a national scheme, ministers believe.
However, new and expanded roads are likely to see innovations such as car-sharing lanes, available to single drivers only if they pay a premium.
|Geoslavery: GPS and technological tyranny|
March 5, 2003
KU researcher warns against potential threat of 'geoslavery'
LAWRENCE -- Jerome Dobson wants to make sure his field of research doesn't aid the greatest threat to personal freedom.
As a pioneer of geographic information systems (GIS), Dobson, a researcher at the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program at the University of Kansas, helped develop the technology that now is commonplace in government, business and practically every aspect of modern life.
Since 1975, Dobson has used GIS for a number of applications -- from conducting environmental analyses to identifying populations at risk of terrorism and natural disasters -- by combining data sets such as detailed population counts of every country in the world, terrain and nighttime lights interpreted from satellite images, road networks and elevations. Dobson, who is a professor of geography at KU, also is president of the American Geographical Society.
Unfortunately, the same technology that has so many beneficial uses also has the potential to create a highly sophisticated form of slavery, or "geoslavery," as Dobson calls it. What worries Dobson is that GIS technology easily could be used not only to spy on people but to control them as well.
"It concerns me that something I thought was wonderful has a downside that may lead to geoslavery -- the greatest threat to freedom we've ever experienced in human history," he said.
By combining GIS technology with a global positioning system (GPS) and a radio transmitter and receiver, someone easily can monitor your movements with or without your knowledge. Add to that a transponder -- either implanted into a person or in the form of a bracelet -- that sends an electric shock any time you step out of line, and that person actually can control your movements from a distance.
Sound like something from a bad sci-fi movie? Actually, several products currently on the market make this scenario possible.
"In many ways that's what we're doing with prisoners right now, but they've been through a legal process," he said.
In fact, many of the existing products are marketed to parents as a way to protect their children from kidnappers. Dobson, however, said parents should think twice before using such products.
"A lot of people think this is a way to protect their children," he said. "But most kidnappers won't have any compunction about cutting the child to remove an implant or bracelet."
Furthermore, these products rely on wireless networks, which are notoriously easy for hackers to break into, potentially turning the very products meant to protect children into fodder for tech-savvy child predators.
Dobson outlined the dangers of geoslavery in an article that appears in the most recent issue of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Technology and Society magazine. Peter F. Fisher, editor of the International Journal of Geographic Information Science, co-wrote the paper with Dobson. More than 375,000 scientists read the IEEE magazine.
One of the greatest dangers of geoslavery is that it doesn't apply just to governments. For example, individuals could use the technology to perpetuate various forms of slavery, from child laborers to sex slaves to a simple case of someone controlling the whereabouts of his or her spouse, Dobson said.
"Many people have concerns today about privacy but they haven't put all the pieces together and realized this means someone can actually control them -- not just know about them, but control them," Dobson said.
As the price of these products gets cheaper and cheaper, the likelihood rises that the technology will be abused, he said. To prevent this, Dobson's paper outlines a number of actions that should be taken, including revising national and international laws on incarceration, slavery, stalking and branding, and developing encryption systems that prevent criminals or countries with bad human rights records from accessing GPS signals.
Still, the first step is making people aware of the very real threat that geoslavery poses. The potential for harm is even greater in less developed nations without strong traditions of personal freedom, he said.
"We need a national dialogue on this if we're going to go into something so different from our traditional values of privacy and freedom," Dobson said. "We need to think about it very carefully and decide if this is a direction we as a society want to go."
Dobson said he doesn't consider himself a crusader. Instead, he is a scientist who is working diligently to ensure that people really understand the good and bad sides of the technology he helped create.
"There certainly are many, many good uses for the technology -- that's not the issue -- the issue is that it can be so easily misused," he said. "My role as a university professor is to alert people and make sure there is an informed debate."
CNN reports on Jerome Dobson's concerns that GPS technology may be hazardous to personal liberties. Dobson is president of the American Geographical Society. "Geoslavery" is a good word for describing one of the biggest downsides to smartmob technology.
NEWS COVER 09.29.04
Big Brother In Your Car
Futuristic hi-tech could save your life -- and raid your privacy
BY TARA SERVATIUS
Deep inside the United States Department of Transportation, Big Brother is rearing his head. On the third floor of the USDOT building in the heart of Washington, DC, a shadowy government agency that doesn't respond to public inquiries about its activities is coordinating a plan to use monitoring devices to catalogue the movements of every American driver.
Most people have probably never heard of the agency, called the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. And they haven't heard of its plans to add another dimension to our national road system, one that uses tracking and sensor technology to erase the lines between cars, the road and the government transportation management centers from which every aspect of transportation will be observed and managed.
For 13 years, a powerful group of car manufacturers, technology companies and government interests has fought to bring this system to life. They envision a future in which massive databases will track the comings and goings of everyone who travels by car or mass transit. The only way for people to evade the national transportation tracking system they're creating will be to travel on foot. Drive your car, and your every movement could be recorded and archived. The federal government will know the exact route you drove to work, how many times you braked along the way, the precise moment you arrived -- and that every other Tuesday you opt to ride the bus.
They'll know you're due for a transmission repair and that you've neglected to fix the ever-widening crack that resulted from a pebble dinging your windshield.
Once the system is brought to life, both the corporations and the government stand to reap billions in revenues. Companies plan to use the technology to sell endless user services and upgrades to drivers. For governments, tracking cars' movements means the ability to tax drivers for their driving habits, and ultimately to use a punitive tax system to control where they drive and when, a practice USDOT documents predict will be common throughout the country by 2022.
This system the government and its corporate partners are striving to create goes by many names, including the information superhighway and the Integrated Network of Transportation information, or INTI. Reams of federal documents spell out the details of how it will operate.
Despite this, it remains one of the federal government's best-kept secrets. Virtually nothing has been reported about it in the media. None of the experts at the privacy rights groups Creative Loafing talked to, including the ACLU, the Consumers Union and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, had ever heard of the INTI. Nor had they heard of the voluminous federal documents that spell out, in eerie futuristic tones, what data the system will collect and how it will impact drivers' daily lives.
Buried inside two key federal documents lies a chilling cookbook for a Big Brother-style transportation-monitoring system. None of the privacy experts we talked to was aware of a 2002 USDOT document called the "National Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Plan: A Ten-Year Vision" or the "National ITS Architecture ITS Vision Statement," published by the Federal Highway Administration in 2003.
What's more, no one we talked to was aware of just how far the USDOT has come in developing the base technology necessary to bring the system to life.
More than $4 billion in federal tax dollars has already been spent to lay the foundation for this system. Some of the technologies it will use to track our movements are already familiar to the public, like the GPS technology OnStar already used to pinpoint the location of its subscribers. Others are currently being developed by the USDOT and its sub-agencies.
Five technology companies hired by the USDOT to develop the transceivers, or "on-board units," that will transmit data from your car to the system are expected to unveil the first models next spring. By 2010, automakers hope to start installing them in cars. The goal is to equip 57 million vehicles by 2015.
Once the devices are installed, the technology will allow cars to talk to each other in real time, transmitting information about weather, dangerous road conditions ahead and even warning drivers instantaneously of an impending collision. When used in combination with GPS technology already being installed in millions of cars, the INTI will be able to transmit real-time information about where your car is and where you've been.
Though Joint Project Office officials refused to talk to Creative Loafing about the next step in their plan, one official defined it simply in a presentation before the National Research Council in January.
"The concept," said Bill Jones, Technical Director of the Joint Office, "is that vehicle manufacturers will install a communications device on the vehicle starting at some future date, and equipment will be installed on the nation's transportation system to allow all vehicles to communicate with the infrastructure."
"The whole idea here is that we would capture data from a large number of vehicles," Jones said at another meeting of transportation officials in May. "That data could then be used by public jurisdictions for traffic management purposes and also by private industry, such as DaimlerChrysler, for the services that they wish to provide for their customers."
According to USDOT's 10-year plan, the key "data" the INTI will collect is "the identity and performance of transportation system users."
"It's going to happen," said Jean-Claude Thill, a professor at the University of Buffalo who specializes in transportation and geographic information and who has done research for USDOT. "It's probably going to start in the large metropolitan areas where there's a much larger concentration and more demand for the services that are going to be made available."
With this system, and the fantastic technology it will enable, the government and the auto industry claim they can wipe out all but a fraction of the 42,000 deaths on America's roads by literally intervening between the drivers, cars and the road. But as they careen toward making it a reality, its costs in terms of individual privacy have barely been contemplated.
If the government has its way, these technologies will no longer be optional. They'll be buried deep inside our cars at the auto factory, unremovable by law. If things go as planned, within the next decade these devices will begin transmitting information about us to the government, regardless of whether we want to share it or not.
More chilling still is the fact that Creative Loafing isn't the first to use the "Big Brother" label to describe the system. Even the corporate leaders working to create it refer to it in Orwellian terms. At a workshop for industry and government leaders last year, John Worthington, the President and CEO of TransCore -- one of the companies currently under contract to develop the on-board units USDOT wants to put in your car -- described INTI as "kind of an Orwellian all-singing, all-dancing collector/aggregator/disseminator of transportation information."
This story really begins in 1991, the year Congress established a program to develop and deploy what is now called "Intelligent Transportation Systems," or ITS. At the time, most ITS technology was in its infancy. But even back then, the long-term goal of the federal government and the automobile industry was to develop and deploy a nationwide traffic monitoring system. A transportation technology industry quickly sprang to life over the next decade, feeding off federal money and the corporate demand for wireless technology.
Since 1991, the driving force behind the INTI has been the Washington, DC-based Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA). This powerful group of government and corporate interests has spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying to bring the INTI to life and worked side by side with USDOT and its agencies to create it.
A look at its shockingly broad 500-organization membership base shows just how much clout is behind the push to create the information superhighway. Forty-three of the 50 state Departments of Transportation are members, including the North Carolina DOT. Dozens of transportation departments from large and medium-sized cities, including the Charlotte Area Transit System, are also members. So are most of the key corporate players in the transportation technology industry and America's big three auto manufacturers.
Though the membership of the Board of Directors changes every year with companies cycling on and off, over the last two years, ITSA's board members have included executives from General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Company, and executives from the technology companies helping to develop the on-board units, including TransCore and Mark IV Industries. The board has also included federal transportation bureaucrats like Jeff Paniati, the Joint Program Office director. ITSA president and CEO Neil Schuster says the bulk of the group's $6 million annual budget comes from its corporate members, money that ITSA then turns around and uses to lobby Congress and the federal government for further development of the INTI.
So why haven't you heard about ITSA or the INTI? Until recently, most of the groundwork necessary to lay the foundation for the system has been highly technical and decidedly unsexy. That's because before industry leaders and government officials could hold the first transceiver in their hands or bury it inside the first automobile, they had to create a uniform language for the system and convince the Federal Communications Commission to set aside enough bandwidth to contain the massive amount of data a constant conversation between cars, the road and the system would produce.
A half-decade later, with the computer standards 90 percent complete and the bandwidth set aside by the FCC, they're on the brink of a transportation revolution.
To most drivers, the above probably sounds pretty far-fetched. National databases to track our every move? A national network of government-controlled traffic management centers that use wireless technology for traffic surveillance by 2022? But the reality is that much of the technology and infrastructure needed to bring the system to life has already been put in place.
In the old days, if you turned on your windshield wipers, power just went to the wipers. But in the cars of today, a miniature self-contained computer system of sensors and actuators controls the wipers and just about everything else the car does. All that information winds up on something inside your car called a data bus.
"We have the ability to communicate essentially any of the vehicle information that's on that data bus, typically encompassing the state of about 200 sensors and actuators," said Dave Acton, an ITS consultant to General Motors. "Anything that's available on the bus is just content to the system, so you could send anything."
For automakers and tech companies, the databus is a goldmine of information that can be transmitted via imbedded cell phone or GPS technology. This year alone, 2 million cars in General Motors' fleet were equipped with the GPS technology that would enable customers to subscribe to OnStar-type services if they choose. Eventually, says Acton, all cars will likely be equipped with it.
But the same technology installed in GM's fleet is also capable of transmitting the car's location and speed to any government agency or corporate entity that wants it without the driver knowing, whether they subscribe to OnStar-type services or not.
Though government-run transportation centers across the country are not yet collecting the data, Acton predicts they will begin to within the next decade.
Ann Lorscheider agrees. She's the manager of the Metrolina Region Transportation Management center on Tipton Drive in Charlotte.
At the center off Statesville Avenue, traffic management specialists stare at dozens of television screens mounted on a massive wall, watching for accidents or anything out of the ordinary. From their workstations, they surveil 200 interstate miles, including I-77 from the South Carolina state line to US 901 in Iredell and I-85 from the state line into Cabarrus County.
When they need to, they can swivel the cameras mounted along the interstate or zoom in to get a better look at an accident. Sensors in the road constantly dump data back to the center on traffic patterns and speed. A system based on predictive algorithms tells them if a traffic pattern signals a potential problem.
The cameras and the sensors were installed by the state in 2000, at a cost of $41 million. Traffic management centers like the one Lorscheider runs can now be found in just about every major to mid-sized city or region across the country, most constructed in over the last decade or so.
News reports show that over the last five years alone, there has been an explosion in the construction of these centers. During that time, over 100 such centers have opened across the country, part of a boom driven by the USDOT and its sub-agency, the Federal Highway Administration, which has secured funding to help bring the centers to life.
"They're booming," said Lorscheider. "They're all over the place now."
Everywhere they've opened, the centers have decreased response time to accidents and slashed, sometimes by as much as half, the number of law enforcement personnel needed to respond to accidents and get traffic moving again. Congestion and travel times have also improved.
This all sounds fine and safety-centered. But in the future envisioned by USDOT and ITSA in federal documents, the centers will be far more than a handy congestion management tool. They'll form the very hub of the INTI itself, interacting with regional and national traffic centers and, ultimately, with immense national databases run in partnership with the private sector that will cull data from vehicles, crunch and archive it.
To bring the INTI to life the way the government plans, the system will have to do far more than use GPS technology to transmit where cars have been and what they did along the way. Cars will need to swap information instantaneously with each other and with roadside readers at highway speeds in real time, something today's GPS technology can't do. To solve the problem, the federal government is pushing back the boundaries of wireless technology to create devices that can make the vision possible. Using something called Dedicated Short Range Communications, or DSRC, the transceivers the government is developing would allow cars to carry on simultaneous conversations with each other and with corresponding roadside units, sending messages or warnings throughout the transportation management system instantly.
These "conversations" could prevent collisions or stop drivers from running off the road, while giving transportation managers an instantaneous view of road and weather conditions. With a DSRC transceiver and GPS technology in every car, automakers believe they can wipe out nearly all automobile fatalities in the US. It's a goal they call the Zero Fatalities Vision.
"There is a basic consensus that we have to change the safety paradigm," said Chris Wilson, Vice President of ITS Strategy and Programs at DaimlerChrysler Research and Technology North America, Inc. "Everything we've done up until now -- airbags, seatbelts -- was to mitigate accidents once they occur. Now we're looking to prevent accidents. To do that we need live vehicle-to-vehicle communication and vehicle-to-vehicle infrastructure."
The tantalizing prospect of saving thousands of lives comes with a heavy price. The same technology that will allow cars to talk to each other in real time would also allow the government and ultimately private business to use the INTI to track every move American drivers make -- and profit from it.
This is the dark side of the information superhighway, the one executives and federal bureaucrats don't like to talk about. That's probably because they know it's entirely possible to use the technology the government is developing to prevent fatal collisions without harvesting information from automobiles and archiving it.
For all their talk about saving lives, there's ample evidence that the driving force behind the push to develop the national information superhighway is to profit from the data it collects. Both the corporations and the government -- including the more than 40 state departments of transportation that are members of ITSA -- stand to eventually rake in billions in revenues if they can bring the system to life. (See sidebar, "A Marketer's Dream.")
But first, they must find a way to harvest and archive the data.
That's where the ADUS, or Archived Data User Service, project comes in. For the last five years, while they were laying the foundation for the INTI, USDOT and ITSA have also begun setting standards for the massive databases that will collect and archive information.
According to federal documents, when it's completed, the brain of the INTI will essentially be a string of interconnected regional and national databases, swapping, processing and storing data on our travels it will collect from devices in our cars.
According to the "ITS Vision Statement" the Federal Highway Administration published in 2003, by 2022, each private "travel customer" will have their own "user profile" on the system that includes regular travel destinations, their route preferences, and any pay-for-service subscriptions they use.
Neil Schuster, president and CEO of ITSA, further clarified that goal in a recent interview with Creative Loafing.
"In fact, when we talk about this, the US government is talking about creating a national database, because where cars are has to go into a database," Schuster said.
Most INTI enthusiasts, like Schuster, insist that the lives potentially saved by this technology are worth giving up some privacy.
"When I get on an airplane everyone in the system knows where I am," said Schuster. "They know which tickets I bought. You could probably go back through United Airlines and find out everywhere I traveled in the last year. Do I worry about that? No. We've decided that airline safety is so important that we're going to put a transponder in every airplane and track it. We know the passenger list of every airplane and we're tracking these things so that planes don't crash into each other. Shouldn't we have that same sense of concern and urgency about road travel? The average number of fatalities each year from airplanes is less than 100. The average number of deaths on the highway is 42,000. I think we've got to enter the debate as to whether we're willing to change that in a substantial way and it may be that we have to allow something on our vehicles that makes our car safer. . . I wouldn't mind some of this information being available to make my roads safer so some idiot out there doesn't run into me."
Schuster insists that drivers shouldn't worry about the government storing information about their travels because personal identifying information would be stripped from it.
"They're not going to archive all of the data, they're going to archive the data they need," Schuster said. "They want origin, they want destination, they want what route that vehicle took. They don't want the personal information that goes with that because it's useless to them."
Schuster's words would be more reassuring if they didn't contradict planning documents authored by his organization and USDOT.
ITSA's own website on ADUS says data archived by INTI databases will include "vehicle and passenger data." So does the USDOT's Ten-Year-Plan. In fact, according to ITSA's own privacy principles, which are printed on its website, transportation systems will collect personal information, but only that information that's relevant for "intelligent transportation system" purposes.
"ITS, respectful of the individual's interest in privacy, will only collect information that contains individual identifiers that are needed for the ITS service functions," the site reads. "Furthermore, ITS information systems will include protocols that call for the purging of individual identifier information that is no longer needed to meet ITS needs."
In other words, identifying information will be purged when government and corporate users no longer have a need for it, not when it becomes a privacy issue for an individual driver.
Everyone Creative Loafing spoke to for this article, and every federal document we examined, insisted that safeguards would be put in place to protect this data. So far, though, no one has been able to specify exactly how these safeguards will work.
It's a problem Eric Skrum, Communications Director for the National Motorists Association, is familiar with.
"Information on this is awfully hard to get and it's also very conflicting, where one hand will be telling you one thing and the other will be saying oh no, we wouldn't possibly be doing that," Skrum said.
It's a problem Creative Loafing ran into as well. For instance, Schuster insists that the data the system will eventually collect won't be used to issue people speeding tickets or other traffic citations.
But according to ITSA's own privacy principles, the information won't be shared with law enforcement -- until states pass laws allowing it. In fact, the US Department of Justice and USDOT are already working on a plan to share the data ITS systems collect with law enforcement. It's called the USDOT/DOJ Joint Initiative For Intelligent Transportation & Public Safety Systems, and its aim is to coordinate the integration of the system with police and law enforcement systems by developing the software and technical language that will allow them to communicate.
After Sept. 11, ITSA and USDOT added a homeland security addendum to their 10-year plan. The system, through wireless surveillance and automated tracking of the users of our transportation system, could bolster Homeland Security efforts, it said.
Sensors deployed in vehicles and the infrastructure could "identify suspicious vehicles," "detect disruptions" and "detect threatening behavior" by drivers, according to the addendum. Those who take public transit wouldn't escape monitoring, either. The addendum suggests "developing systems for public transit tracking to monitor passenger behavior."
So who will control the information transmitted by the on-board units? That's still up in the air, too. Like the black boxes now installed in cars that record data before a crash that can later be used against the driver, it's possible that the on-board units will be installed in new cars before the legal issues surrounding the data they collect are fully resolved, says one industry insider.
Robert Kelly, a wireless communications legal expert who has acted as legal council to ITSA, says privacy law will have to evolve with the technology. In other words, privacy issues probably won't be resolved until the technology is already in place. Legislatures and Congress will have to guide how everyone from law enforcement to corporations use the data and exactly what information they have access to, Kelly said.
But again, with privacy organizations largely in the dark and the development of the system hurtling forward, the question is how much influence, if any, privacy advocates will be able to wield before these devices are installed on the first future fleet of cars.
That's part of what frustrates Skrum, the National Motorists Association communications director. "Because this is being done behind closed doors to a certain extent, the public isn't really going to have much to say about it," said Skrum.
The good news is that there's still time for the public to weigh in. It will take USDOT at least three more years of development and consumer testing before the first prototype "on-board unit" is ready. In the meantime, the federal government, automakers and the state departments of transportation will have to hash out a couple of billion-dollar details. So far, the government has borne nearly all the cost of developing the on-board units. But that will soon change. For the system to work, automakers must sign on to mass produce the on-board units and install them in cars, a move that will cost billions.
At the same time, the government must install the roadside readers to transmit the messages cars send, or the on-board units will be useless. So to bring the system to life, the government must spend millions, if not billions, on roadside units to communicate with cars at roughly the same time automakers begin installing the on-board units.
As Japan, Europe and foreign carmakers dash to develop similar technology, US automakers are under tremendous pressure. This is creating something of a chicken and egg situation. Given the nature of federal and state transportation budgets, the rollout of roadside units is likely to be gradual, starting at select trouble spots across the nation. But automakers say they need a mass deployment to make their effort worthwhile. They want to see a rollout of at least 400,000 roadside readers over about a three-year period.
A decision is currently slated for 2008, when automakers and the USDOT plan to come together to hash out a deployment strategy. At stake will be billions of dollars -- both in investments and profits. If the government and automakers can agree on a deployment plan, technology companies are expected to begin investing more heavily in the further development of programs the technology will enable.
ITSA projects that $209 billion could be invested in intelligent transportation technology between now and the year 2011 -- with 80 percent of that investment coming from the private sector in the form of consumer products and services.
Jean-Claude Thill, a professor at the University of Buffalo who specializes in transportation and geographic information systems, says he believes the system will be deployed, just not as fast as car makers would like.
"It's not going to happen all at once," said Thill. "Look at cell phones. Right now in large urban areas you have a high density of cell towers so you have good coverage. If you venture on the interstate your signal gets weak and sometimes you lose it. You can't expect this to be different."
Thill says he believes the automobile manufacturers are playing hardball with the government to make sure the infrastructure is put in place quickly.
"I think the automobile manufacturers will do it," said Thill. "There is money in it. I think as the market develops in large urban areas, they will see that it is in their interest to get on the wagon. But nothing is going to happen until they are on board."
From the government's perspective, the good news is that a few sensors in a few cars and a little GPS technology can go a long way.
"Only a relatively small percentage of the approximately 260 million vehicles on US roads today need to be equipped with communication devices for the system to start producing useful data," said Bill Jones, the Technical Director of the USDOT's ITS Joint Project Office in a speech to the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board in January. "With 14 to 15 million new vehicles sold in the US each year, within two years you can have 10 percent of all vehicles equipped. We already know from our previous studies that a vehicle probe saturation of less than 10 percent can provide good information."
Contact Tara Servatius at email@example.com
Data Mining and Surveillance
They're Watching You (about data mining corporations versus personal privacy)
... We appear to be on the brink of a post-September 11 surveillance society. In one optimistic scenario, the U.S. is employing its full range of technical ingenuity to ferret out terrorists, using all the resources of the Digital Age and its quirky software geniuses. Meanwhile, dazzling new biometric identifiers -- iris scans, voiceprints, DNA registries, and facial recognition software -- are about to reduce identity theft to a quaint memory even while they shorten airport security lines and speed up credit approvals.
But in a less appealing second scenario, we could be on the verge of surrendering every detail about our private lives to an all-knowing Big Brother alliance of cops and mysterious private security corporations. They'll promise to protect us from terrorists. But along with that safety, we'll face arbitrary and unappealable decisions on who can fly in a commercial airliner, rent a truck, borrow money, or even stay out of jail.
That's the conundrum at the center of No Place to Hide, a finely balanced look at the see-saw struggle between security and privacy. Author Robert O'Harrow Jr., a Washington Post reporter, deftly shows how the government and its contractors have been lurching between these two goals ever since the September 11 terrorist attacks raised homeland security to the public's top priority.
The biggest threat and the biggest promise seem to lie not with official government databases but with the private companies that sell their information to all levels of government and to banks, airlines, credit-card companies, mortgage holders, car-rental agencies, and the like. ...
After September 11, it was only natural that these companies would volunteer their services in tracking terrorists. They had a head start in a critical technology: data mining. In practical terms, that involves cross-indexing every conceivable source of information -- unlisted telephone numbers, credit-card records, appliance warranty cards, insurance claims, arrest warrants, Social Security numbers, child custody orders, book purchases, E-ZPass records -- to compile a list of suspects or even possible terrorists that need to be placed on the Homeland Security Dept.'s "no fly" list.....
PTECH, 9/11, and USA-SAUDI TERROR - Part I
PROMIS Connections to Cheney Control of 9/11 Attacks Confirmed, by Jamey Hecht,
With research assistance by Michael Kane and editorial comment by Michael C. Ruppert
.... Total Information Awareness or TIA, an Orwellian nightmare of data mining that uses PROMIS-evolved technologies and artificial intelligence, is now operating and able to incorporate vastly divergent data bases of personal information on private citizens from computer systems using different languages in near-real-time. Every bit of personal information from grocery shopping habits to driving records, credit reports, credit card transactions and medical records is now almost instantly accessible. Access will be expedited and broadened to local law enforcement agencies when what will become a national ID card comes into being. That will happen as driver's licenses are standardized nationwide (following the recent intelligence reform act) to include a simple UPC-like code that will allow approved agencies to get all of our data. The surveillance and intervention capabilities of PROMIS progeny can now be used to prohibit a credit card purchase or (soon) prevent someone from boarding a commercial aircraft. These capabilities could also be used to empty a private bank account or - when coupled with biometric face recognition technology - prevent you from making a withdrawal from your bank or even buying food.
In every one of these software applications there are two themes: machines that "talk" to each other and artificial intelligence. (Please see Crossing the Rubicon). As you will see below, these capabilities are now known to exist.
TIA has been renamed several times. We know that the first software was delivered to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2003. Its latest nom de guerre is TIE or Trusted Information Environment. According to the San Francisco Chronicle last October TIE now allows the government to access private databases without a warrant. I go one step further to assert that TIE allows access to private databases without the knowledge of the database owners, provided only one condition exists: the database can be accessed through the internet.
And although the public face of TIA pretends that these technologies have not yet been applied, we are certain with the publication of this story that the same software the government needs is already in use by private corporations - the big ones - and we remind the reader that FTW's map of the world states that the government has been turned into a franchise operation of these corporations anyway. So where's the seam?
What the courageous and brilliant Indira Singh has to tell us is a matter of monumental importance. Based upon these new revelations which confirm what I suggested in Crossing the Rubicon every American and quite likely every citizen of an industrialized nation should assume that all of these technologies are operational today. A bit of breathing room is left as I conclude that they have not been sufficiently deployed yet to monitor all citizens in real time. My best assumption is that right now perhaps a million or so high-interest Americans are under constant surveillance; all by computer technology which has proven so accurate that it can detect suspicious movements just by correlating gasoline and food purchases with bank withdrawals and utility consumption. [--Michael C Ruppert]
Eyes on the road
February 3, 2006 - 11:19AM
Speed cameras, red-light cameras, e-tags. Innocuous technology to make the roads safer and our journey simpler ... or a series of "Little Brothers" keeping track of our every move? Nikki Barrowclough looks behind the boom in traffic monitoring.
Eight years ago, on the night that a Saudi diplomat was brutally murdered in his Canberra apartment, a car was filmed travelling south along the Hume Highway towards the national capital. Then, a few hours later, it was filmed heading north back towards Sydney.
The car wasn't being tailed by the Australian authorities, the Saudis or anyone else. The "spy" was a humble traffic camera, although this emerged only after four people were arrested and brought to trial over the diplomat's violent death. The fact that the camera had been set up to monitor speeding and unregistered trucks didn't cause a ripple. The candid Safe-T-Cam had, in fact, filmed every vehicle travelling along that stretch of the Hume. So when the diplomat's ex-lover insisted to police that she and her new boyfriend had been in Sydney at the time of the crime, the authorities had only to look at an image of her car fleeing back up the highway to know that she was lying.
Few people would be troubled by the use of traffic cameras to locate criminal suspects. But the Canberra incident highlights how the mass surveillance of motorists, far from being an Orwellian conspiracy theory, is now routinely practised and growing more pervasive by the year. In Australia and other major Western countries, traffic is increasingly monitored with the sort of sophisticated technology that makes the image of a shadowy figure watching through binoculars seem impossibly quaint. Whether we're appearing in "real time" on one of the hundreds of traffic cameras operated by central command centres in Melbourne and Sydney, being "flashed" on a speed or red-light camera operated by the police, or clocked on a toll road with our seemingly innocent e-tags, it's almost impossible to drive anywhere without being monitored and/or leaving an electronic data trail.
It's even getting harder to disappear on obscure back roads thanks to GPS - the US military-developed global positioning system whose satellite tracking can pinpoint a car's location to within a few metres. A group of Stanford University academics in the US are reportedly working on satellite navigation systems so accurate they will be able to tell authorities whether you're in your car or standing next to it. This is revolutionary technology, and great if you get lost or have an accident or your car is stolen. But there's a chilling aspect to it all as well - namely, the loss of individual privacy.
Two years ago, the Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner devoted an entire edition of its newsletter, Privacy Aware, to just one subject: "Privacy and the Car". It included a brief section on telematics, the term used to describe the combining of satellite GPS, in-car computers and mobile phone technologies. "Telematics raises concerns because, while GPS receivers cannot send data back to a central location, mobile phones can. Used together, they turn the vehicles they're embedded in into very powerful tracking and monitoring devices," the report declared.
How much covert monitoring goes on in tandem with open surveillance, such as speed cameras, is anyone's guess, because that's not the sort of information governments readily disclose. Professor Roger Clarke, a Canberra consultant in data surveillance and information privacy, regards the Hume Highway incident as an example of "function creep" - when technology, set up for one purpose, secretly ends up serving another purpose as well. And function creep, he says, is a way in which the "surveillance society" has sneaked under the public's guard.
"The social and political commentators have missed it, but what's more worrying is that young people have grown up with surveillance and have a different attitude to it," Clarke says. "They think life's like that."
Governments and transport authorities insist that such surveillance systems are totally benign. They are about road safety, keeping people alive, and managing increasing volumes of traffic more efficiently, they say. This isn't just soothing rhetoric - with around 1600 deaths on Australian roads last year alone, road safety is a huge issue - but at the same time we seem to have ceded our civil rights as motorists.
Cameron Murphy, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, does not doubt that surveillance technology is about much more than simple traffic management.
"Most people are aware that speed cameras and red-light cameras are obviously there for infringement purposes," Murphy says. "But we are also aware that there's an extensive network of cameras that can track people from one end of the city to the other, along freeways and on main arterial roads.
"You should be able to go from A to B without the government monitoring you. If the prime motive is traffic management alone, then you don't have to survey one end of the freeway to the other - it doesn't add up. That's when it becomes an invasion of privacy ... Recording where people go, what time of day they travel. If there aren't appropriate controls, the data could be used for commercial purposes or by any other government agency."
Given the fear of terrorism and the heightened national security alert, the potential of some of the new "smart road" technologies is obvious. For instance, British firm Hills Numberplates has already devised so-called e-Plates, numberplates embedded with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. These tags act as tracking devices that transmit a unique, encrypted ID code via silicon chips that cannot be seen or removed. Known as a silent technology, RFID is sometimes described as a sophisticated barcode because it can identify and track goods from a distance.
Hills Numberplates claims a single "reader" positioned at the roadside can identify dozens of vehicles fitted with an e-Plate, moving at any speed, at a distance of up to 100 metres. But will they catch on here? VicRoads has no plans to bring in e-Plates. However, the NSW Roads & Traffic Authority says they have certainly been up for discussion - though as yet there's no decision to introduce them.
"But as with everything of this nature, it's a case of watch this space," a spokesman says.
Transport authorities are also keeping an open mind about an electronic version of
the vehicle identification number (VIN) that comes with every car. A Department of Transport and Regional Services spokesperson in Canberra says that while there are no plans "at this point in time" for an electronic VIN, that doesn't mean it won't happen.
Melbourne-based academic Professor Marcus Wigan, an adviser to the US Department of Transport, is also the Australian Privacy Foundation's spokesman on intelligent transport systems. He says e-VINs (which would transmit to a central location as cars pass specific points) are simply a more efficient way of managing the many regulatory aspects of the identity of vehicles. An e-VIN would certainly decimate the stolen car trade, but it would also obviously increase the ability of authorities to track cars and monitor daily travel routines.
The expression "intelligent transport systems" (ITS) is a catch-all phrase for
the in-car electronics, smarter roads, satellite navigation technology, tolling systems and remote road monitoring being employed increasingly throughout the world - sometimes without limit.
Last September, as Hurricane Rita bore down on Texas, and hundreds of thousands
of motorists fleeing the Houston area became trapped in a 200-kilometre traffic jam in which cars were abandoned and people collapsed from heat exhaustion, officers from the state's highway system were reportedly scanning e-tags to make sure evacuees had paid their tolls.
Meanwhile, London's Independent newspaper reported late last month that the United Kingdom was about to become the first country in the world where all motorists would be monitored by a vast network of cameras that would read the licence plates of every passing car. Neither the Home Office nor the British police denied the story, or the paper's claim that the ultimate plan was to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that police and security services could analyse the journeys of individual drivers.
And in the US, the Washington-based Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office - a powerful, 500-strong group of car manufacturers, technology companies and government interests - has reportedly spent more than $4 billion and almost 15 years developing a system of tracking and sensor technology that would collect data on the movements of every driver and public transport user. The stated aim of this system, known as the Integrated Network of Transportation Information, is to reduce the 40,000 or so annual road deaths in America
by allowing government agencies to intervene directly between drivers, their cars and the road. And authorities want to have it in place within the next decade.
Whether or not they were designed for such purposes, what intelligent transport systems do is identify specific vehicles - and, therefore, their drivers.
The term first cropped up in Australia about 15 years ago. In 1992, an organisation called Intelligent Transport Systems Australia was set up in Melbourne, and today its membership base includes government, scientific, academic and car manufacturing groups. The group's executive director, Brent Stafford, says he expects that all new vehicles will be equipped with satellite navigation and telematics by 2010. And while he says he understands people's unease about such technologies, he can't see why such systems would be used to track Australians en masse, as seems to be the intent in Britain.
"It's quite easy to track the movements of every vehicle, but you'd have to ask, 'What for?'" says Stafford. "You'd also have to consider how much it would cost. ITS is the application of technology to transport. It's not the application of technology to security. The fact is, there'll be lots of Little Brothers looking after you, but no Big Brother spying on you."
Lachlan McIntosh, chief executive of the Australian Automobile Association, shares Stafford's view. "Why would you want to track everybody? And what would you do with all that data?" he asks.
When Good Weekend suggests to him that, given the uncertain times we live in, such surveillance options could be very attractive to government departments, he replies: "In France during World War II, everyone was tracked and monitored without these technologies.
I think surveillance comes and goes in society ... If there's a political will to monitor what everybody does, then it's likely to happen.
"In the end, there are a lot of benefits in monitoring where you are: the emergency response if you are to have an accident, for instance ... If, as you say, this will happen, and everyone had a monitoring device in their car that said they just had an accident, we may well save 100 or 200 lives a year. Okay, you may well have been going to Cronulla when you shouldn't have been, or maybe you had an unfortunate crash and nearly died, but you were saved because of the device. There are trade-offs in those discussions, and we often forget the benefits when we talk about the downside."
There are also advantages in being able to keep an eye on hazardous cargo or large sums of money, he adds. "We all want to know that if a cargo of ammonium nitrate goes missing, it can be tracked and found. Is that an intrusive activity on the driver of the truck? Well, maybe it is, but it's a security mechanism as well. Now, should you want to put surveillance on a particular car for some criminal activity, I imagine you would need a warrant and you would have to go to a magistrate to obtain it. So I would think Australians would want to ensure that they are protected through our court system against the undue use of surveillance."
People have to be informed about the benefits of the new technology, what the implications are and what the risks are, he adds. "As long as we have that sort of reasonably informed debate in Australia, I think we're likely to want to adopt the latest technology."
But is there debate? Dr Peter Chen, a political scientist who lectures in communications at the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University, says Australians tend to be relatively passive when it comes to such matters.
"While we like to tell ourselves that we have a healthy disregard for government, it's total fiction. We're very accepting of increased state security and surveillance for whatever reason," Chen believes. And when governments talk up safety as a way of getting more surveillance systems under the wire without causing public alarm, we generally accept official reasoning.
"That's the argument that's always used," says Chen. "No government ever says we're introducing wide-scale surveillance for anything but notions of public safety, and while the paranoid concerns of some people are somewhat overstated, systematic surveillance technologies are very compelling tools for governments of all persuasions, and tend to inevitably lead to the expansion of their use into other areas of public policy."
Remote surveillance, like static cameras and portable speed cameras, is cheap, too; much cheaper than human surveillance. "This was a key argument in the government's support for electronic tagging of terrorist suspects late last year: surveillance technologies are cheaper than policing," he says.
Police in NSW recently began using high-tech scanning units that employ automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) technology to "read" the registration of passing vehicles and check them against an RTA database, as a way of detecting stolen and unregistered vehicles. Victoria Police trialled the technology, too, but has opted instead for mobile data terminals linked to the main police computer system, from which police can also access the VicRoads registration database. Seven hundred of these terminals are now being fitted to police cars, motorbikes, boats and helicopters by the Victorian Department of Justice.
Paul Chadwick, the Victorian Privacy Commissioner, wrote about ANPR technology during the trial. The systems, he pointed out, can be linked to existing surveillance camera systems, "so multiplying the 'eyes' of the State, and can be linked to a variety of databases, so expanding the State's 'memory'".
Meanwhile, the ordinary motorist, blithely driving across town or to a lunch in the country, should think twice about e-tags - those small, wireless electronic transponders attached to the windscreen that collect information about a car's movements and charge the owner a toll.
The e-tag revolution kicked off in Melbourne in 2000 with the opening of the privately operated, 22-kilometre CityLink, one of the world's first automated, fully electronic toll roads. In Sydney, both the controversial Cross City Tunnel and the recently opened Westlink M7 are also fully automated. This means that toll-road operators, whether they're government or private companies, can collect personal information such as your vehicle registration, driver's licence number, credit card details, name and address and your pattern of travel.
And that's a concern to lawyer Anna Johnston, a former NSW deputy privacy commissioner who's now the chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation. As she notes, drivers on these toll roads now have no choice but to identify themselves every time they use them. "I don't want to indulge in conspiracy theories, or say that we have reached that 'Big Brother' point," she says, "but there is a danger we are sleepwalking into a situation where more and more of our information can be logged, tracked, profiled and matched in ways that haven't really been contemplated in the past. That may not be the intention at the time a new technology is introduced - but of course with each new technology, with each new chipping-away at our privacy, it makes the next step so much easier."
Johnston's foundation campaigned against a law passed in NSW last May, which allows the RTA to issue photo identity cards to non-drivers over 16 years of age (VicRoads has no plans to introduce the voluntary scheme).
"We weren't against the concept of a photo ID card for non-drivers - there's a need for it, clearly - but we suggested an alternative way to develop it, so that it didn't result in one database being held by one agency covering the entire population, whose details get printed on a card which is both unique and universal. All that, of course, is like a national ID card, which Australians rejected in 1987."
The bill didn't limit the type of information that could be collected and stored, Johnston says, and the legislation specifically allowed the RTA to put the two databases (driver and non-driver) together. She's concerned the latter will eventually happen.
However, both the RTA and a spokesman for the NSW Roads Minister, Joe Tripodi, assured Good Weekend that the photocard database would be kept separate from other databases within the authority, and that there would be separate databases for drivers and non-drivers. In a statement, the RTA also said that databases kept on NSW motorists are not integrated, for privacy reasons, and that access to one database doesn't automatically mean access to another.
The inevitability of more privately run, cashless toll roads, and a more widespread user-pays road system means there'll be more databases and more information stored on motorists. Privacy laws protect access to all databases, although privacy advocates tend to be lukewarm about their effectiveness.
"You get principles that sound great in theory, like, 'This information should only
be used for the purpose for which it's collected, or with your consent', and people say, 'Oh good'," says Nigel Waters of the Australian Privacy Foundation. "Then you look at the fine print where it says, 'Except in emergencies, for law enforcement and a whole raft of other exemptions.'"
But the acting Privacy Commissioner for NSW, John Dickie, argues the Privacy Act is not without teeth. "Government departments and agencies are subject to it. People can't just wander off and get around things - [though] if there is a serious crime, all bets are off," he says.
Four years ago, a former employee of Transurban, the company that operates CityLink, admitted in court that he had passed on the credit-card details of more than 8000 CityLink customers to cyber thieves, who then used them for an internet spending spree. A subsequent review of Transurban's information handling practices by the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner found Transurban needed to take steps to reduce the risk of further privacy breaches. The FPC won't detail what those measures involved.
A spokesman says there were no fundamental problems and that Transurban merely
needed to "enhance" existing systems.
Meanwhile, Transurban has told Good Weekend that it takes the protection of personal information seriously, and that the manner in which it manages the use and disclosure of personal information goes beyond obligations imposed by state and federal privacy legislation. The information it collects on its database is used only for collecting tolls and enforcing toll collection, isn't available to other organisations, and is only made available to police or to an authorised government body once there's a properly authorised written request.
It's not just toll-road operators who are amassing huge amounts of data on private citizens. In what could almost be called privatised intelligence gathering, the outsourcing of traffic management systems to private-sector organisations means more databases still. One such organisation is Tenix, the contractor employed by Victoria Police to operate its speed cameras - and which wrongly fined more than 100 motorists last July after the wrong speed limit was entered into the machine by an operator.
"I guess if there's a concern about the private-sector organisations holding increasing amounts of data, it's, 'Where are they holding it, how secure is it, and what purpose are they putting it to?'" says Monash's Peter Chen, who believes we will soon be talking about "data laundering" the way we now talk about money laundering. "I think it's safe to say that governments around the world, not just in Australia, have been lousy at regulating the movement of data about members of the public held by private-sector organisations.
"We have privacy laws which are relatively tight, but ... if you put a large chunk of the general surveillance system data into private hands, the company that picks up that contract will undertake that work in the most effective and efficient way for their profitability. And that might mean warehousing and processing data offshore, outside the legal jurisdiction of Australian governments. If I were a car company, I'd be very interested in finding out about the sort of people who drive a lot, who they are, what are their characteristics. If that information was held in a country with
poor data security legal provisions, then data could be sold, resold or 'stolen'. That's not a conspiracy theory view. It happens all the time. Large amounts of data get 'lost' in transit every year around the world."
Marcus Wigan points out that no one "owns" the information stored about them - so there's very little redress for consumers if their data is misused. "There's no such thing as intellectual property when it comes to information about you," he says. Nevertheless, he cautions against paranoia over intelligent transport systems, even though he has his own concerns about the data building up as a result of new technologies.
"The rules we have to manage that information are reasonably good, but not so good as to handle a situation of future cross-linkages between all those databases," he says. "So if we have [someone's] entire historical records on a range of individual databases, and at some point, for administrative convenience, a link is drawn between them, then the result is a complete history of locations, times, events of many different kinds that suddenly becomes available as a single resource. That's a quantum leap.
"Your vehicle will have had its numberplate [photographed] various times, your e-tag will have been caught - you only have to have one identification token transferred between two or more agencies for an amazing degree of record linkage with other sources of information about you and your activities over a considerable period.
"The ability to manage this is improving incredibly quickly. Once this is achieved -
and it's a few years away yet - we suddenly get a retrospective loss of privacy of an enormous order [and] ITS systems become surveillance systems.
"I'm not saying they'll be used in that way," Wigan adds. "I'm saying the potential for that to occur ... would then become a low-cost, low-effort issue. We need to use the time until all this is in place to educate and earn the trust of the community to secure the very real benefits of intelligent transport systems."
Published in the Good Weekend on January 28, 2006