The New York Times reports that the State of Indiana is considering selling their major toll road to a private company (a Spanish-Australian partnership) that would operate the toll road for a profit for the next 75 years. The privatization of public highways is a growing trend as states look for upfront cash infusions and relief from the ongoing maintenance of these large public infrastructures. Along with privatization comes increased usage of road pricing schemes, most commonly electronic tolls.
An important question, then, is what happens to the personal data collected via electronic toll transactions. Presumably, when the roads & corresponding toll systems are owned and operated by government agencies, the data is protected by state and federal privacy laws. But private companies are not bound by privacy legislation. There will be nothing preventing the private owners of our public highways from aggregating drivers’ location-specific information and selling it to insurance companies, McDonalds, WallMart or whoever else is interesting in know where people drive, what kind of car they own, and any other information they choose to collect when setting up and processing electronic toll transactions.
It becomes imperative that legislation and policies are put in place to protect the privacy of one’s personal information when driving on the highways. The sale and operation of highways by private companies must be contingent on explicit and firm committments to maintaining the contextual integrity of personal information in the context of highway travel.