If you’ve been using toll roads in Florida, your information is probably in a database somewhere. An investigation by USA Today has found that the state has been collecting both vehicle and driver information through tolls via a secret surveillance program.
USA Today spend half a year compiling the evidence that the state has a surveillance program it has implemented through its toll systems, specifically Florida’s own SunPass or the broader EZ Pass toll network. Like other toll systems across the country, it relies on electronic transponders. While this is an easy convenience for drivers, those transponders are sending information about drivers and the vehicle they’re in to a state-run database list called the Law Enforcement Notification System.
On its surface, it doesn’t sound bad. The system allows law enforcement agencies in the state to request specific info on a vehicle plate or transponder, along with where that vehicle might be in real-time on a toll road. That’s helpful for things like Amber Alerts, stolen vehicle tracking, or the pursuit of other criminals.
But the problem as USA Today discovered is that Florida law has no limit on why or when authorities can add vehicles to the system. What’s worse is that not many people know about the system because the state is keeping the information its collected close to its chest with an iron fist.
Over the course of the six-month investigation, USA Today submitted multiple requests to Florida’s Department of Transportation for the data. Every single request was denied. The department even went so far as to cite a public records law as reasoning for the denial, though a public records advocate USA Today spoke with said the law (which wasn’t specifically mentioned) didn’t apply.
The bigger problems with all of this are the warrantless collection of this information on Florida residents and the privacy concerns. State law enforcement officials are collecting and storing information on people who haven’t committed a crime. But as Lee Tien, an attorney with the California-based nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation stated, that’s where it all starts.
“For many people, they’re like ‘I’m nobody, who the hell cares about me?’ But part of what’s the case about this kind of routinized, ubiquitous surveillance is that they don’t have to care about you at first. They just collect as much data as possible, and then ask who’s doing interesting stuff,” he said.