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Toll roads: 'Surveillance state' purveyors and enforcers

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There are virtually no laws and oversight for how the driver license information is stored and shared, not to mention whether it is being sold to outside interests. Questions also arise about whether the information is being shared in real time - as it happens.

'Smart Roads'
Toll tags and license plate readers are not the only technologies being used to surveil the public on the road. Traffic cameras and sensors, a frequent sight at traffic lights, are quietly appearing along highways and freeways.

They're called Smart Roads.

In 2015, California expects to unveil a Smart Corridor project along I-80 in the East Bay area of San Francisco, the San Francisco Examiner reported. The project uses a network of sensors and cameras on the freeway, ramps and side streets to collect traffic information.

Staff stationed at the Caltrans Traffic Management Center In Oakland will monitor the traffic and send information to a electronic signs along the roadways. The San Francisco Examiner described the 24-hour Traffic Management Center as "a huge room that looks like NASA's Mission Control."

"Construction of the system started in 2012, but much of it involved installing fiber-optic cables, working on traffic signals, manufacturing signs and creating computer applications," the SF Examiner reported.

Staff will monitor the flow of traffic at 44 on-ramps and send messages to 133 high-tech signs that order drivers on which route to take.

Management Center staff will also be able to control traffic signals on adjoining streets to direct drivers on or off the freeway. Other signs will tell drivers they should park their cars and use public transportation, due to traffic conditions.

All of it is promoted to the public as a way to reduce traffic jams and accidents. So much for just expanding a roadway and being done with it.

Areas of Texas, including Dallas, also deploy SmartSensors-- a device that uses radar technology to track the number of vehicles on the road. Based on traffic flow, the device can control traffic lights, according to a video produced by Wavetronics. The device also monitors what is called a "dilemma zone" where drivers are near an intersection with
a light that just turned yellow. The sensor can be used to extend the yellow light to help avoid rear-end collisions. In turn, it is conceivable that the sensor could also speed up the light to create red-light tickets for cities and towns seeking to collect more revenue.

The system can also be used to herd drivers onto freeways and into toll lanes. All of it seems to be not only a money-collecting venture but a way to film everyone driving.

A Texas Senate report suggests configuring side streets and traffic lights to be so inconvenient that it will force motorists to take the toll lanes. Specifically, the report discusses "altering the timing of traffic signals to discourage users of frontage roads and side streets, reconfiguring surface streets to make them less convenient for motorists, and closing lanes for maintenance on alternative routes."

Black boxes for cars
Recording devices are also cropping up inside cars. Some auto insurance companies are promoting in-car monitors to log everything a driver does. The New York Times applauded the idea in a recent story, promoting it as a way to lose a little privacy in exchange for big savings on auto insurance premiums.

Supposedly, the sole intent is to base insurance premiums on actual driving habits. A dashboard device logs everything you do - how fast you drive, braking habits - all of it. The practice is still somewhat new. But if more people sign up, it could lead to the creation of large databases of information, The NYT noted.

State Farm insurance, for example, sends out driving "report cards" that are used to drive premiums, according to the NYT. One of the areas evaluated is the time of day you drive. Driving in the middle of the night, when there are "drunk drivers and tired people," as well as driving during rush hour, are both considered risky. It's also a criteria people may
not be able to change, based on their work schedules and other factors. Turning the car in a way that creates "leaning" will cause the score to drop; so will speeding and fast acceleration and deceleration.

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Teri Webster is a freelance researcher/investigative journalist who also served as a long-time newspaper staff writer in New York, Nevada, California and Texas. She began her reporting career by covering the New York State Police and other (more...)

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Toll roads: 'Surveillance state' purveyors and enforcers

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