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.


It certainly tracks your vehicle, but then that happens anyway with CCTV camera's.

But if you pay by card, you can still use a prepaid debit card from a corner store, that does not convey who you are.

Of course if, like most modern vehicles, you have a GPS navigation system then your location at any time can be discovered that way.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2013 @ 11:49 am

This could be a very bad thing for people in San Francisco who are cheating on their spouse with a partner in Marin.

But it's the way that we're heading. There are cameras all over the place and some cars will even rat you out themselves. You can't go to Marin anymore unless you have a valid excuse for being there.

Posted by Troll on Mar. 29, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

GG Transit doesn't require ID to take a bus or ferry.

You can borrow a car that isn't yours.

Take a cab.

Or drive the long way around requiring no bridge transit.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

>"Or drive the long way around requiring no bridge transit."

Wow. Just for fun I tried that via Google maps. If you head south, circle the bay near San Jose, drive up would STILL have to cross the Benecia Martinez bridge. Total miles = 149 from Ferry Building to Sausalito. It is 10 with a GG Bridge crossing.

But that wouldn't help because of the Benecia Bridge. So you are talking about a loop around the Bay, up through miles = 222.

I guess that's why they built the GG Bridge.

Posted by Troll on Mar. 29, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

Although personally I'd just take the ferry.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

From Scoen's own blog post via the link that Rebecca provided:

"UPDATE: An alert reader pointed out that FasTrak has a procedure for acquiring and activating a FasTrak token anonymously: it requires visiting the FasTrak Customer Service Center in downtown San Francisco in person (and periodically reloading cash value in person). FasTrak says

You can open your account with cash, money order, or cashier's check. A Representative will be able to open your account without requiring customer name, address or vehicle information. (If you try to open an account online, your name, address and vehicle information will be required.)

This option could benefit from much more publicity (and convenience). But thanks are due to FasTrak for offering it."

Ok, so there you have it. I have never used FastTrack precisely due to these privacy concerns. Nothing to hide in particular; I just don't like the idea of anyone being able to track me. But if the above is true, that settles it. I will now go and set up an anonymous FastTrack account.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 29, 2013 @ 8:06 pm

and so it still would be possible tot rack your movements. It would just take a little more effort, i.e. they would need to be wanting to keep an eye on you anyway.

Oh, and if there is a CCTV in their office then you might want to wear a hoodie and keep it pulled tightly over your face. And wear gloves so that your fingerprints are not on the cash you hand over.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2013 @ 7:50 am

So how much is the fare fee for those motorists and what might be the rule or reason to stop this?

Posted by pedestrian bridge on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 4:47 pm