New York's E-ZPass uses a radio-frequency identification sensor, or RFID tag, which allows residents of the Big Apple to pay road tolls electronically. But most drivers don't know that the state is using the passes to gather data far from toll booths, according to an article in Forbes.
Internet hacker "Puking Monkey" wanted to see where his RFID tag was being scanned. He rigged the E-ZPass so a light would turn on and a toy cow would moo every time the RFID tag was read. He found his pass being read several times on short trips around New York, far from any tollbooths.
While speaking at the hacker convention Defcon, Puking Monkey called his findings "intrusive and unsettling." Tag readers on the streets are part of New York's traffic initiative "Midtown in Motion", which uses the passes to track traffic movement to improve flow. The New York Department of Transportation wasn't forthcoming about the program, but TransCore, the manufactures of the RFID tags used in E-ZPasses, told Forbes via email "The tag ID is scrambled to make it anonymous ... the system cannot identify the tag user and does not keep any record of the tag sightings."
Still, it's an unsettling reminder that if the state of New York can track drivers without notifying them, potentially anyone can. Puking Monkey told the crowd at Defcon that drivers can protect themselves by keeping their E-ZPasses in a bag and bringing them out when driving through tollbooths. Laws governing electronic information gathering are hazy and undefined in most states. Californians have their cars photographed and tracked by police, with no transparency on how that data is being used.