After spotting a police car with two huge boxes on its trunk — that turned out to be license-plate-reading cameras — a man in New Jersey became obsessed with the loss of privacy for vehicles on American roads. (He’s not the only one.) The man, who goes by the Internet handle “Puking Monkey,” did an analysis of the many ways his car could be tracked and stumbled upon something rather interesting: his E-ZPass, which he obtained for the purpose of paying tolls, was being used to track his car in unexpected places, far away from any toll booths.
Puking Monkey is an electronics tinkerer, so he hacked his RFID-enabled E-ZPass to set off a light and a “moo cow” every time it was being read. Then he drove around New York. His tag got milked multiple times on the short drive from Times Square to Madison Square Garden in mid-town Manhattan…
"Calm down, WAMK. I'm sure there are toll pass readers set up around NYC, so the Good Guys can have a way to track someone driving a car bomb into the city, so they can see where it came from."
Not so fast there, Rusty:
This isn’t a part of the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, the millions-dollar project emulating London’s Ring of Steel with extreme surveillance. It’s part of Midtown in Motion, an initiative to feed information from lots of sensors into New York’s traffic management center. A spokesperson for the New York Department of Transportation, Scott Gastel, says the E-Z Pass readers are on highways across the city, and on streets in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island, and have been in use for years. The city uses the data from the readers to provide real-time traffic information, as for this tool. The DoT was not forthcoming about what exactly was read from the passes or how long geolocation information from the passes was kept.
"Oh. Well I'm sure this was all disclosed somewhere in their T&C's."
Wrong again, Junior:
Notably, the fact that E-ZPasses will be used as a tracking device outside of toll payment, is not disclosed anywhere that I could see in the terms and conditions.
When I talked to the E-ZPass Inter-agency Group — the umbrella association that oversees the use of the pay-toll-paying tags in 15 different states — it said New York is the only state that is employing this inventive re-use of the tags.
When asked, TransCore revealed that the data is only stored for a few minutes, and isn't used to track the specific tag, and can't be used for anything nefarious. So don't fret, nothing bad will happen, now or in the future. As we all know, data that the Feds have their hands on is always 100% completely safe.