In a rebuff to Big Brother on the highways, the RI Department of Transportation (DOT) has adopted new regulations designed to protect the privacy of motorists when the state’s new truck toll gantry system takes effect. The regulations, filed this week with the Secretary of State, came about after an earlier version of the DOT’s tolling regulations contained no privacy protections whatsoever, prompting criticism from the ACLU and other privacy advocates. The ACLU of Rhode Island today commended the DOT for responding to that criticism and taking strong action to protect motorists’ privacy.

The state’s planned toll system will use various technologies to detect and capture information from every motor vehicle going under the gantries, even though only certain categories of trucks will be assessed toll fees. Specifically, the new system will capture all license plates on the highway, including front and overview images of vehicle, and will also record the date, time and GPS location of every vehicle. It was this collection of vast amounts of data on non-tolled vehicles that prompted the ACLU to raise privacy concerns earlier this year.

The DOT’s newly adopted regulations specify that:

  • Any data gathered by the system will be used solely for toll collection purposes, and cannot be sold, traded, or exchanged for any other reason.
  • The collected data cannot be made available to law enforcement or other agencies except pursuant to a valid court order.
  • All data collected of motor vehicles that are not subject to a toll “shall be destroyed as promptly as technologically feasible,” but not more than seven days after the image was recorded.

ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown said today: “We commend the Department for listening to the concerns of the ACLU and others and putting strong safeguards in place to protect the privacy of the motoring public. Without these protections, this statewide network of toll gantries had the potential to track, store, and make available to others vast amounts of information on all motorists. With ever greater advances in technology, government agencies must always keep in mind the importance of protecting the public’s right to privacy.”

Text of the privacy regulations can be found here.