Fri, Oct 12, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Concerns raised over ETC security

FEAR OF LEAKS:Legislator Tsai Chi-chang compared the ETC’s data collection and storage system to the kind of massive surveillance seen in a Hollywood film

By Lee Yu-hsin, Tsai Wei-chi and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporters, with Staff writer

A 2009 deal between Far EasTone Telecommunications Co (遠傳電信) and China Mobile Ltd (中國移動通訊) poses a potential threat to national security, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Chi-chang (蔡其昌) said yesterday.

The Electronic Toll Collection system (ETC) — utilizing radio frequency identification (RFID) technology — requires users to register their license plates and personal information prior to use.

Every time a driver drives past an ETC gate on a freeway the system records the time and where the license plate went through the gate.

It would be like the Taiwanese version of the film Enemy of the State, where the movements of everyone — from the head of state to the common pedestrian — would be recorded, Tsai said.

Enemy of the State encapsulated the idea of the US government knowing when, where and what its citizens were doing by showing how the National Security Agency tracked down a tape using CCTV, stakeout surveillance, wiretapping and electronic records.

Tsai said national security could be in danger because the Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co (FETC, 遠通電收) — commissioned by the National Freeway Bureau for the ETC system — had sealed a deal in 2009 with China Mobile Ltd, the largest Chinese telecoms company, which bought 12 percent of Far EasTone’s shares at NT$40 per share.

Even though the money for the deal was still blocked due to a ban by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration on Chinese investment in Taiwanese telecoms industries with their own cable lines or stations, Tsai said the deal posed a potential danger to national security. This is because data collected by the ETC system — saved in the FETC databank — could be viewed by the Chinese government, which could use it to monitor the travels of Taiwanese.

Noting that in his National Day speech on Wednesday Ma had said “in the future it would be normal to open up [to Chinese investment] and only exceptions would be placed under control,” Tsai said the Ma administration was always trying to cut costs.

Ma’s government has tried to circumvent the legislature’s oversight of the government, Tsai said, creating potential dangers to national security.

Tsai said he was worried that the Personal Information Protection Act (個人資料保護法) — which took effect on Oct. 1 — might not completely guarantee the safety of the personal information of people using the ETC system.

However, National Freeway Bureau chief engineer Wu Mu-fu (吳木富) said that all data gathered by the ETC system would be handled according to Personal Data Protection Act regulations.

The FETC has systems in place, both internal and external, to prevent data leaks, Wu said, adding all the information in the network would only be used by the FETC as per contract.

Data could not be leaked nor provided to anyone else and the contract also states that each year an impartial third party would be given the job of managing and running the company, Wu said.

The bureau would also make surprise inspections of the company to see if it was adhering to regulations, Wu said.

However, the bureau was also considering forming a special investigation group specifically tasked with monitoring the firm, he said.

If Tsai was able to provide substantial proof and information about problems, the bureau would immediately launch an investigation, he added.

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