When Assistant U.S. Attorney
Jonathan Luna's sedan cruised through a toll booth the night he was killed, his
E-ZPass card automatically billed him, leaving an electronic record of his
travels for police, The Associated Press reported.
Millions of commercial truck
drivers and others use electronic toll systems to pay for tolls without digging
out cash – and investigators are increasingly using the electronic record they
create as a crime fighting tool.
Should truckers be concerned
about how these systems are used?
"Absolutely, and so should
all Americans" said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the
Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Any information that can be
used can also be abused. We see a lot
The big picture for truckers is
that these systems can be used to make every road
a toll road and every related device that transmits or receives an electronic
signal a tool to provide surveillance for all kinds of purposes.
Regardless of what assurances of
privacy and confidentiality that may come up front, these promises won't be
kept in the long run, Spencer said.
Whether it's national security or
law enforcement or the desire to raise revenue, government and others always
find ways to tap into available information for their own purposes, he added.
More on E-ZPass
The E-ZPass system, which
operates from Massachusetts to West Virginia and is expanding to Maine and New
Hampshire, operates using the distinct radio signal emitted by each card. Toll
receivers detect the signal and bill the corresponding account. Similar
regional systems are in use around the country.
The New York Thruway System
has received 128 subpoenas from investigators since 1998, and has turned over
records in response to 61 of them, said Terry O'Brien, a spokesman for the
thruway system, as reported by The AP.
The thruway system has issued
electronic cards for use in 5.1 million vehicles, so the number of records
subpoenaed is a small percentage. But experts predict the records will
increasingly find their way into both criminal and civil cases.
According to a newspaper
report, New York City officials last month transferred 30 detectives out of the
narcotics bureau for allegedly claiming false overtime. They were discovered
passing through E-ZPass lanes miles from where they were supposed to be
In Illinois, a man reviewed
his wife's electronic toll records during a custody dispute, and divorce
attorneys say they see potential for such records in the future.
In the Luna case, electronic
toll records show the 38-year-old took a roundabout route from Maryland to the
spot in Lancaster County, PA, where his body was found last week, investigators
said. Authorities fanned out across the region, interviewing gas station attendants
and hotel clerks.
An FBI spokesman in Baltimore
would not comment on the bureau's use of E-ZPass records in general, citing the
ongoing investigation. Investigators subpoenaed toll records from the
Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, the commission said.
While that request was
specific, investigators in Massachusetts have occasionally asked highway
authorities for general data. For instance: Did any blue Ford pickup trucks
pass through Exit 35 Friday night?
Doug Hanchett, a spokesman
for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, said officials have fought to quash
subpoenas it feels are inappropriate. Even with a slight increase this year,
however, he said the agency only received about six subpoenas in 2002.
Meanwhile, New York
businessman Solomon Friedman told The AP he’s
wary of the technology's potential for misuse. Anyone with technical savvy, he
said, could track radio signals from the cards. He designed a pouch a driver
can store the card in, blocking the signal when not in the toll lane.
“Why have data out there
about yourself when there's no reason for it?” he said.