Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Toll roads to collect your details

The bill is intended to clarify the payment system on the Northern Gateway highway. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The bill is intended to clarify the payment system on the Northern Gateway highway. Photo / Brett Phibbs

All motorists using toll roads will have personal information collected under new legislation which removes the requirement for a form of anonymous payment to preserve privacy.

Civil liberties advocates have hit out at the move which they say is part of a pattern of increasing surveillance of the public which the Privacy Commissioner is not doing enough to oppose.

The Government's Land Transport Management Amendment Bill introduced last week makes a number of changes to the law regulating toll roads.

The requirement that a tolling scheme must include one method of payment that does not collect personal information will be removed "as an entirely anonymous, yet cost-effective method is impractical", the Government says in its explanatory note for the bill.

"The act will instead rely upon the Privacy Act 1993 and the availability of an untolled route to safeguard privacy", the note goes on to say.

The Herald understands Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff has concerns about the change but she was unwilling to comment on them this week. She is expected to make a submission to the select committee that considers the legislation.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said the requirement for a tolling system that did not collect personal information "no longer reflects the working realities of modern tolling systems which collect vehicle information needed to apply tolls without disrupting traffic".

The NZ Transport Agency's regional director for Auckland and Northland, Stephen Town, said the law change was intended to clarify the situation with its existing kiosk cash payment system on the Northern Gateway highway.

Though the agency regarded the system which collects number-plate information as anonymous, it was aware that some people did not agree.

It was likely that future toll roads would use slightly different cash payment systems that collected the same number-plate information, "and we don't want to be in a situation where anybody says 'hey what you're doing is not okay"'.

He said anybody who was concerned about privacy issues from the tolls payment system always had the option of using an untolled alternative route.

Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Batch Hales said toll payment systems which collected personal information and tracked car journeys were "a very dangerous thing".

Mr Hales said collection of the information lent itself to "a Big Brother operation" where car journeys could be "linked to other things".

The Privacy Act forbids the sharing of personal information by the government agency that collects it except when it is deemed necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to public health or safety, or the life or health of the individual concerned or that of another individual.

However, that section of the act is under review.

Mr Hales saw the move over road tolls as part of a wider erosion of privacy which the Privacy Commissioner was not doing enough to oppose.

"What concerns me is the Privacy Commission doesn't have very many powers."

- NZ Herald

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