Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
Electronic vehicle monitoring systems are recommended in a major review of Australia's transport policy released recently by the Minister for Housing and Regional Development, Brian Howe. The report argues that electronic metering can assist in traffic management by charging different toll prices depending on the time of day, vehicle occupancy, and route. The basic electronic tolling involves a smart card in a motor vehicle, but more sophisticated systems involve using a meter fitted inside vehicles, connected to a radio transmitter device. The report suggests that roadside mounted devices could be installed along toll roads, the high occupancy lanes of major arterial roads, the entrances and exits of parking stations, at entry points to traffic calmed areas such as city centres and residential areas, outside schools and other locations where it is particularly important to enforce speed limits, and periodically along special routes designated as priority routes for public transport. Drivers would be made aware of the applicable charges by a display meter within their vehicles.
The report implies that 'there would be no privacy issues since details of particular locations and times of day are not recorded' - records of the transaction would not be kept outside of the vehicle, and cameras and other surveillance devices would be unnecessary. The report proposes that charges would be paid automatically each time a vehicle was refuelled, with the funds then transmitted electronically to the appropriate authority or corporation. The security of the system could be maintained by random checks to determine that the equipment had not been tampered with. However, the history of such sophisticated monitoring devices suggests that the usefulness of maintaining an external, identifiable record - such as for assistance in motor vehicle accident and car theft investigations - raise questions over whether it is only a matter of time before anonymity would be removed. The extended use could easily be justified by the seriousness of crime and accident problems, reinforced by the common claim that honest people have nothing to fear from intrusive technologies.
The Minister for Housing and Regional Development, Brian Howe, has responded positively to the report's recommendations on electronic vehicle monitoring, although he has not yet stated whether the government would prefer to proceed with smart card or the more sophisticated metering technology.