Beginning next week, cell phone-toting
motorists in Missouri will have the government keeping an eye on them, whether
they like it – or not.
On Friday, Dec. 2, the Missouri Department of
Transportation approved a statewide contract with National Engineering
Technology Corp., which will begin tracking and monitoring the signals sent
from drivers’ cell phones
to nearby towers to monitor vehicles’ positions and speeds.
Drivers will have no way to opt out of the
tracking – except to turn off the power to their cell phones.
Alone, a single car provides very little
information, but when combined with data from other cars, researchers will be
able to determine traffic slowdowns remotely.
The information will also be available to the
motorists themselves. Within six months, a Web site will be set up to allow
drivers to check on traffic flow using the cell phone data, The Associated Press reported.
MoDOT officials told The AP that user information will remain anonymous, and that
the data from the $3 million project will only be used to predict traffic
“There is absolutely no privacy threat
whatsoever,” said MoDOT Director Pete Rahn.
However, since the system would use cell
phone users’ signals – each of which can be traced back to the phone’s owner – privacy advocates worry about the potential use of the program for the tracking
of private citizens.
“Even though it’s anonymous, it’s still
ominous,” Daniel Solove, a privacy law professor at
George Washington University, told The
Kansas City Star. “It troubles me, because it does show this
movement toward using a technology to track people.”
Missouri isn’t the only state to consider
using cell phone-tracking technology. The Maryland State Highway Administration
– with financial support from Delcan National
Engineering Corp. and a number of federal grants – has been testing a $5.7
million traffic-monitoring system on more than 1,000 miles of roadway.
However, according to The AP, MoDOT’s
plan will cover 5,500 miles of roadways across the state, making it the largest
project of its kind to date.