Privacy and electronic tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge

Welcome to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge! You are being tracked.

Now that human toll collectors have vanished from the Golden Gate Bridge, motorists can expect their license plate numbers to be recorded for fare collection. Yet one aspect of this shift to receive little ink in recent media reports is the privacy implications of the new electronic system.

Slowing without stopping may improve traffic flows, but it also means motorists’ movements are tracked by default. Databases logging bridge-crossings can be mined for information: Subpoenas for FasTrak and similar electronic toll collection systems are on the rise, even for purposes such as divorce cases.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Senior Staff Technologist Seth Schoen noted in a recent blog post: “All of the bridge's electronic payment options track the identities of those paying the toll, and all represent a loss of privacy for visitors or commuters entering San Francisco by car.” (Full disclosure: Schoen is a friend and former coworker.)

As the Wall Street Journal noted last year, it’s part of a wider trend of privacy erosion: "Storing and studying people's everyday activities, even the seemingly mundane, has become the default rather than the exception."

To weigh your bridge-crossing options from a privacy perspective, read Schoen’s full blog post here.