Could Big Brother Be Watching From Your EZ Pass?

EZ Pass on dash. Image: Flickr user johnrudolphmueller

EZ Pass on dash. Image: Flickr user johnrudolphmueller

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Automated toll transponder systems, like EZ Pass used in the Northeast, make life easier for those who commute on toll roads, across bridges and through tunnels. Despite initial paranoia over the devices’ ability to track your speed from one point to another, no tickets have ever been issued to motorists who arrived at a toll plaza early, courtesy of a heavy right foot.

With that in mind, there are two ways to look at the latest advance in transponder systems: it’s either no big deal, or it’s the stuff of an Oliver-Stone-film-induced nightmare.

Kapsch TrafficCom AG is an Austrian company that manufactures transponders for programs such as EZ Pass. In fact, Kapsch has a ten-year agreement in place to provide transponders for 22 electronic toll systems across the United States.

Kapsch’s latest patent filing is for a transponder equipped with a multi-function camera system, for the purpose of verifying the number of occupants within a vehicle. In other words, future Kapsch transponders may have the ability to monitor the inside of your car.

Their reasoning sounds legitimate enough: by counting the occupants, the system will allow future toll roads to charge by occupant, not just vehicle. Additionally, it could be used to monitor the number of passengers in a vehicle, to verify HOV lane violations.

Or, on the more sinister and paranoid side, it could be used to track individuals, or monitor activity within a vehicle. Captured images would be transmitted to a server at random intervals, with accompanying location metadata, or the images could be downloaded on demand by a central monitoring location.

Uneasy yet? Another feature in the patent filing allows the camera to take an image when an acceleration threshold is exceeded. While that could refer to the extreme g-forces encountered in an accident, it could also refer to sudden acceleration that exceeds the posted speed limit.

To be clear, current electronic toll transponders could be used to issue speeding citations, since they capture information on time and distance, which can easily be used to calculate speed. The fact that they’re not used to do so should alleviate some of the paranoia over inward-facing cameras (and outward-facing cameras, also proposed).

EZ Pass officials are quick to point out that they have no intention of adopting this technology as an upgrade or requirement for future systems. Besides, as EZ Pass executive director P.J. Wilkins explained to MSNBC, “The whole tracking thing is a bogus argument. If you have a cell phone you are being tracked anyway.”

Image credit: Flickr user johnrudolphmueller, Creative Commons 2.0

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Comments (3)
  1. It would be hard for big brother to track you consistently with an EZ Pass or another type of open road tolling technology. The best systems today can only accurately track a small portion of the cars passing through their chokepoints. Most of the enforcement is completed with high resolution/speed cameras. For more information on open road tolling you should check out That website has a comprehensive list of ORT in its Research Resources section.

  2. The Research Resources link is ORT - Open Road Tolling Research Resources

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