Wednesday, June 2, 2010

California Bill Protecting Electronic Toll User Privacy Passes Senate

Some good news on the state privacy front. A bill that we (CFC) have endorsed by Senator Joe Simitian (a privacy stalwart) that would bar California transportation agencies from selling details about travelers' commuting habits and other personal information passed the Senate by a vote of 24 to 10 on Tuesday. It still boggles my mind that 10 senators thought even this is asking too much. The bill now moves to the Assembly.

To be sure, these are important privacy protections for users of electronic toll collection systems, like California's FasTrak. Since the inception of FasTrak in the late 1990’s, California has witnessed a growing trend of attorneys, law enforcement agencies, and other entities requesting and obtaining data on FasTrak subscribers and their travel patterns – often simply by presenting the transit agencies with a subpoena. Additionally, subscribers are often not informed that their data is being handed over to a third-party by the various transit entities in these situations.

SB 1268 puts in place a number of protections for personally identifiable information of electronic toll collection subscribers, including, but not limited to: travel pattern data, address, telephone number, bank account information, and credit card information.

SB 1268 would restrict transportation agencies from handing over subscriber information unless a law enforcement agency provides a search warrant, or, in cases in which the delay required in seeking a search warrant would result in an imminent danger to the health or safety of a member of the public, a written statement by the law enforcement agency explaining the nature of the situation. In addition, SB 1268 would provide that in each instance where a subscriber’s personally identifiable information is handed over to a law enforcement agency, the subscriber him or herself must be notified within a reasonable timeframe.

Subscriber privacy has further been put in jeopardy due to storage of subscriber information, including travel pattern data and toll transactions, for indefinite periods of time by transportation agencies. The stored data include information on accounts that have closed and tickets that have been resolved for years. This creates data-rich files on all subscribers, which could then be accessed by third-parties without the permission of the subscriber. SB 1268 would remedy this unnecessary amassing of subscriber data by creating clear guidelines for data retention and data destruction.

Action on the part of the legislature is necessary to ensure consumer privacy is respected, and transit agencies employing electronic toll collection systems are held responsible for their use of subscriber information. Passing the Senate was an important step, and my money is on it passing the Assembly too.

But counting on the Governor to protect privacy is not a comfortable position to be in...probably the most telling indicator of which way Schwarzenegger will lean if the bill does get to his desk is the amount of money he has received from the interests opposing this legislation. I'll look into that in a future post...

No comments: