Fri, Jan 17, 2014 - Page 8 News List

ETC system raises privacy issues

By Liu Ching-yi 劉靜怡

Since electronic toll collection was made applicable to all freeway traffic on Dec. 20 last year, there has been widespread dissatisfaction and controversy over repeated problems with the system, which is run by Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co.

System downtime, erroneous toll charges and poor service have all raised drivers’ ire. Some car owners had an electronic toll “eTag” installed by a well-meaning car dealer who was duped by marketing information saying that cars could not drive on freeways without an eTag.

It is unfortunate for the people who worked as toll collectors, who have now disappeared from the nation’s freeways.

The government and Far Eastern Electronic have failed to provide clear answers on many key points.

For example, did the company wrongly blame an anonymous hacker when its system broke down due to overload, or did a hacker really exploit a loophole?

Can the company’s promise — that no eTag user’s personal information has been leaked — be trusted?

Is it true that toll collectors’ contracts did not cover their benefits if they chose to change jobs, or has the company been shirking its responsibility to redundant workers?

What contractual basis is there for Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih’s (葉匡時) promise that drivers who have been overcharged would be repaid double the overcharged amount?

If the company cannot even keep to its promises regarding the free service line and payment handling fees, can promises of compensation be believed?

None of these problems could have happened when tolls were being collected by people, but they are sure to arise now that the government is using modern technology and private companies.

The electronic toll system is authorized according to Article 24 of the Highway Act (公路法) and the Regulations Governing the Management of Highway toll Collection (公路通行費徵收管理辦法), and the system’s only permitted purpose is toll collection.

Article 10 of the regulations stipulates that if the owner or user of a motor vehicle does not pay a toll in accordance with the regulations, the toll operator should tell the collection department and give it information about the vehicle involved, including the vehicle type, license number and a photograph or video recording.

Article 17 says that the collection department is a private institution that is appointed to handle toll collection.

However, personal data can be collected under a system defined as “toll collection.”

If the personal data are used to clamp down on unlawful driving, it is sure to lead to legal disputes — even more so if it is used for other purposes that have even less to do with toll collection.

Far Eastern Electronic is entitled to record traffic information to help it collect tolls on the transportation ministry’s behalf.

After the information has been used or becomes invalid, the person who is the subject of the data is legally entitled to have it erased.

What system is in place to ensure that the ministry and the company do their duty to protect personal information?

Have they ever given road users a clear explanation about how to exercise their rights in this respect?

When drivers who do not use eTags have complaints about the company’s collection of visual information about their vehicles, or about the way they calculate fees that are owed, is there a quick and convenient way to find answers or fix the problem? Has the government figured this out? Has it given the public a clear explanation?

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