Could New York’s Cashless, Automatic Tolls Create a Slippery Slope of Government Surveillance?

The New York Civil Liberties Union warns that without tollbooths, the use of license plate readers and facial recognition technology will create a new cache of sensitive information.

by Mark D. Stein, Staten Island Advance / October 10, 2016
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the automatic tolling will "have an impact on virtually every commuter in a car." Flickr/MTA New York City Transit

(TNS) — STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- It will take years before Gov. Andrew Cuomo's MTA vision comes to life at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. But some say the completion date is more like 1984.

If all goes according to the governor's plan, tollbooths will disappear, LED lights will wrap the bridge, and a license plate-registering system will be in place to bill motorists who use the span and other MTA bridges and tunnels.

"This automatic tolling is going to have an impact on virtually every commuter in a car," Cuomo said in a statement announcing the plan. "It's smart and it's going to be a reality."

The MTA estimates drivers could save 21 hours of driving time each year as a result of the electronic tolls.

While the benefits appear promising, the New York Civil Liberties Union isn't necessarily jumping for joy.

The NYCLU scoffed at the increased use of cameras and recognition technology, warning that a database could take New Yorkers down a slippery slope:

"... controversial advanced cameras, license plate readers and facial recognition technology, which is known to be notoriously inaccurate and misidentifies people of color at a higher rate than white people. The plan also will install sensors and cameras at 'structurally sensitive' points on bridges and tunnels. It is not yet clear how the massive database of information that this transformative surveillance system can create will be used and who will have access to it."

Does the NYCLU have a valid concern, whether regarding misidentification of people based on race, and/or a budding database of information?

The civil liberties union also stressed that this takes us one step closer to "the dystopian world of 'Minority Report.'"

©2016 Staten Island Advance, N.Y., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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