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1984 Today - E-ZPass: convenient way to speed up a trip, or subtle invasion of privacy?
Track # 242333
Annotations by:  Clare Foran/Katie Pilarz ...
 Track Category
High School (9-12)
Last Modified:
Mar 23, 2005
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 Track Description
EZ-Pass, a system of increasing popularity among Americans, is a simple way to maximize the efficiency of your road travel without costing you extra money. Essentially a plastic box with a barcode individual to your vehicle, EZ-Pass affixes to your windshield and is automatically scanned when you pass through special toll lanes on the thruway. A computer recognizes your EZ-Pass "tag" and automatically deducts the toll from a prepaid account, thereby eliminating any hassle associated with thruway driving. Think of the advantages, no more rolling down your window or waiting in traffic, no more or scrambling for loose change at the bottom of your car, all to pay a toll.... but though EZ-Pass seems practically ideal, is it really as harmless as it seems?

EZ-Pass, though only intended as a means to simplify travel, has surprising tracking abilities which could have far-reaching implications for those who use it. Information obtained through EZ-Pass scanners could be transmitted to government agencies and has many times been used in court cases ranging from divorce litigation to murder charges. In Illinois, a man reviewed his wife's electronic toll records during a custody dispute, and divorce attorneys say they see potential for the use of such records in the future. Likewise, EZ-Pass scans have also contributed to solving murder cases, most notably one in 1997 when a man was kidnapped; later, by reconstructing the evening’s travels using data left at the tollbooths by the EZ-Pass transponder, the FBI were able to find the man’s kidnappers.

EZ-Pass is a prominent example of the increasing RFID technology present in our daily lives. Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a technology that allows information about a user’s habits to be transmitted through devices such as EZ-Pass and in many cases, this information can be sent directly to government agencies. As RFID technologies begin to crop up all over, millions of Americans are finding the obvious comparisons between such technology and 'big brother' increasingly troubling. Of course, while it is easily arguable that, unless you are intending to break the law, EZ-Pass should certainly pose no threat to your privacy, ultimately no matter what your views on the subject are, maybe the next time you drive through a toll lane on the thruway, you'll give it more than just a passing thought.
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