New York's Cashless Toll Road Program a Recipe for Surveillance Abuse

License plate readers, facial recognition software, and registration suspensions-a dangerous combination.


toll booth
Andre Jenny Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom

New York City is getting rid of its toll booths, but it will be replacing them with more state troopers, more surveillance, and more government enforcement, and it's probably going to end up hurting the people who can afford it the least.

The state of New York and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are promoting a shift to a cashless toll road system for convenience, but seem to be downplaying some of the potential bad consequences (perhaps because it will serve the state).

While there's nothing inherently bad about an E-Z Pass system reducing the friction of drivers getting from place to place, Cuomo and New York are taking it up a notch. They're going to capture the license plates of everybody passing through crossings. One purpose is to send monthly bills to those who don't participate in the pass system. That still doesn't seem to be a problem, but then there's this: The license scanning isn't just for billing. It will check drivers' records, and New York will assign 150 state troopers to chase down those who have a history of not paying right then and there.

And they're jacking up penalties to get more money. Here's where it gets nasty, via the New York Daily News:

Also next month, new laws to crack down on toll violators will go into effect. One suspends the vehicle registration of drivers who beats tolls three times in five years. Another law hikes toll violation penalties to $100 from $50. There will be an increased State Police presence at the crossings, with the agency adding 150 troopers to the force in January.

So people who don't pay the toll risk losing the ability to drive their cars, a terrible, terrible way of policing this problem. Who is going to be more likely to be repeat offenders for not paying tolls and who is going to be more likely to be hurt by having their registration suspended? C.J. Ciaramella noted earlier in December how suspending driver's licenses in states places a very serious burden on low-income people.

It's very easy to imagine such a side effect here as well. And given that police will be monitoring all cars passing in real time, imagine the consequence of attempting to continue driving on these toll roads with a suspended registration. They'll be caught immediately. More fines! And possibly imprisonment. This may cost people their jobs, and therefore their incomes, and leave them trapped in a bad situation.

And there's no reason to believe that these spot checks are going to remain confined to toll checking, because they're also planning to implement facial recognition software for "tighter security." You'd have to be naïve to think that those 150 troopers are just going to be pulling drivers over for non-payment.

Read more here.