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The scanning device, seen here, IDs people based on reflections of invisible beams of infrared light.  (Source: Vehicle Occupancy L)
Washington road contractors have some innovative and perhaps intrusive traffic control strategies.

Civil contractor Transurban doesn't want Washington D.C. drivers cheating its toll system -- so it is going to scan them

An expansion of a major Washington D.C. highway I-495, the Capital Beltway, is planned to start next year.  The highway loops around D.C. and crosses through Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

The expansion plans to bring privately operated toll lanes to the table as an alternative for commuters in rush hour traffic.  The big perk is that carpoolers will get to ride in these lanes for free under the current plan.

Enforcement though is a sticky issue; how to determine people from decoy dummies or large dogs riding in the passenger seat?  Rather than manually policing the area, the companies owning the project have proposed using technology that would scan drivers and passengers with bursts of infrared light that detect the reflectivity of human skin.

Ken Daley, a senior vice president of one of the two companies contracted for the project, says that the technology is so advanced that it can accurately ID a human face from an animal such as a pet.

Transurban has given no word on whether the devices might also be used for "national security" or other government purposes.

Washington D.C. drivers are not very happy about the proposal.  They are voicing their concerns to the government, raising uncertainty of whether the project will be approved.  Aside from the general discomfort with the idea of being watched, they fear the move could be used against them legally or monetarily.

Divorce courts could theoretically file for images of a route the husband or wife might have taken to see where they were really going to.  Employers could do the same if they suspected an employee of using their sick days for vacation.  Worse yet, insurance companies could use the information to ID drivers with long commutes and up their rates.

Ginger Goodin, an engineer at the Texas Transportation Institute, feels bad for the concerned commuters. "[Commuters] feel a sense of privacy in their vehicle, even though they may not really have it if you look at the legal cases,” said Goodin.  “[But] if they just can't stomach [scanning systems], then they have their choice, right next to it, to use the general-purpose lane."

The case is drawing attention as it may become an example by which other states choose their policies.  Maryland and Virginia both have planned expansions on their books. 

California and Colorado both have privately run toll roads that are currently free to carpoolers.  In California, police wait behind concrete blocks ready to jet out and pull over offenders.  In Colorado, they use a much simpler system which simply has drivers peel off into a separate lane mid-trip where they are visually checked to avoid payment.

The D.C. area contractors' moves will likely stir up a hornet nest of privacy concerns.  The issue is strikingly similar to the fears surrounding RFID implants and the prospect of mandatory chipping.  Last year Scott Silverman, Chairman of the Board of VeriChip Corporation, who make the only FDA approved RFID implant, proposed a solution to the problem of illegal immigration -- mandatory microchipping of guest workers and anyone found to be illegally dwelling in or trying to enter the U.S.  The previous day President Bush, whose former head of the Department of Health and Human Sciences Tommy Thompson is currently serving on Verichip's board, had called for "high-tech measures to solve the immigration problem."

There is significant pending and passed legislation that aims to protect constituents from unwanted intrusion and scanning.  As reported by DailyTech, California's state Senate recently passed a bill banning companies or anyone else from forcing a California citizen to be involuntarily microchipped.

These issues will not go away as technology becomes more and more entrenched in our day to day lives.  People will likely struggle with these complex moral issues as they ponder whether the benefits of increased safety are worth someone being able to watch them in their daily lives.

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So what if you are scanned
By OrSin on 10/4/2007 9:51:52 AM , Rating: 1
I'm all for privatcity but uou go under camera all day in stores and everyone where else. If you dont want to get scanned then dont right in the free carpool lane. Its that simple. I live in DC and the traffic here is worst then NY. If can get to work 20 minutes fast and free but have to scanned while in my car then its fine. It now like they video taping everything you do while driving. It no worst then red light cameras to me.

RE: So what if you are scanned
By Vertigo101 on 10/4/07, Rating: -1
RE: So what if you are scanned
By wordsworm on 10/4/07, Rating: -1
RE: So what if you are scanned
By AmberClad on 10/4/2007 10:19:03 AM , Rating: 2
Last time I checked (this morning, I suppose?), there are still red light cameras around the DC area and the VA Abusive Driver law that many of us are up in arms about is still in effect. So if they really are determined to see this through, I doubt complaining/petitioning is going to have much effect.

As far as the privacy issue, and the data collected being used in court cases like divorce proceedings, isn't that already an issue with the SpeedPass lanes that record when a car goes through?

I guess I've become a little jaded, but this scanner doesn't seem measurably worse than the various other driving irritations that Beltway drivers have to deal with. So, I'm sort of with OrSin as far as my "meh" reaction to this.

RE: So what if you are scanned
By FITCamaro on 10/4/2007 10:26:06 AM , Rating: 3
I'm with you. If you don't want to get scanned, don't drive in the free lanes. These things are privately owned. And you have a choice on whether or not to use them. I love people who think they can tell someone what they can do with their private property.

Same as I love people who complain about cameras that take photos of red light runners saying they impede on someone's privacy. How? They take a picture of the person driving the car and the license plate. Not constantly either. Just when someone runs a red light. An illegal act that injures or kills thousands each year. But god forbid you get in trouble for doing something illegal. Think of how much lower insurance rates might be if people didn't run red lights since they know they'd almost definitely get caught.

RE: So what if you are scanned
By ebakke on 10/4/2007 5:29:36 PM , Rating: 2
I completely agree, except for one piece:

Think of how much lower insurance rates might be if people didn't run red lights since they know they'd almost definitely get caught.

If the insurance companies actually decreased rates because of this (or anything else)... well, that'd be awesome.

RE: So what if you are scanned
By Eris23007 on 10/4/2007 8:19:19 PM , Rating: 2
Insurance premiums are based on the actuarial equation, using extensive amounts of data primarily related to the probability of incurring a loss and the indemnity (how much you get) if you do experience a loss.

Insurance is a regulated industry and must issue "Actuarially Fair" premiums. If enough people didn't run red lights for this reason, the probability of loss would indeed go down, and as a consequence so would premiums (or in your words, rates).

Most insurance companies make money primarily from investing the money they hold, not from profits on the actual insurance rates - the whole idea is that total expected wealth with insurance should be equal to total expected wealth without insurance.

So, when you hear people noting that insurance is more expensive in some areas than others, its for two possible reasons:

1) higher probability of loss (I.E. more dangerous place)
2) greater regulatory requirements for coverage

Best example of the regulatory requirements for coverage is if one state only requires a driver to have $25K worth of liability insurance, while another state requires the same driver to have $50K in liability insurance, if the P(loss) is the same, the premiums will be twice as high in the state with the $50K liability requirement. This issue is a MAJOR driver in the health insurance industry - some states require orders of magnitude greater total coverage than do others.

(Taking a risk analysis class right now for my Master's in Systems Engineering)

RE: So what if you are scanned
By xsilver on 10/4/2007 10:31:20 AM , Rating: 2
I agree with you somewhat are there are already cameras in many areas we go into today.


the companies owning the project have proposed using technology that would scan drivers and passengers with bursts of infrared light that detect the reflectivity of human skin.

I interpreted this part of the article though as meaning that the sensors were relying on the albedo of human skin so that a dog with hair or a blow up doll would have different albedo's and therefore trigger an alert.

The next paragraph in the article states that the technology is available to accurately ID scan human faces but didnt unnecessarily say thats what would be used?

If you had a hairless large dog or a dead pig carcass it may be able to fool the sensor though? lol

As a company though they might just err on the side of caution and not take photos and set the sensors such that you would not get a ticket unless you were obviously flouting the rules. They would not tell this to the public however just so citizens wouldnt try to test the limits of their system.

RE: So what if you are scanned
By JasonMick on 10/4/2007 11:02:26 AM , Rating: 2
"All blood is red, and all living humans have water in them, and we're reliant on those attributes,"

This is what the company says about their method. Apparently they use it to do some sort of surface scan, then they check this scan for
a) the presence of life
b) that the thing is actually a human face and not fido or your pig named fido.

Also, please note that this is quite different from traditional camera based systems that are owned by individuals, such as shop owners. Typically these are small systems in one area with 1-10 cameras. Unless people knew exactly where to look it would be hard to snoop on people.

Here we are talking about an organized system which is likely centrally stored at one location.

The only comparable examples would be government run citywide systems, like the London one, which was recently showed to do nothing to stop crime, while potentially harming privacy.

Private Security Cameras vs. Private/Government Camera networks...apples and oranges

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