Law enforcement officials are increasingly using electronic toll records to track people involved in criminal and civil wrongdoing.
In recent weeks, FBI agents tracked the rather circuitous path of Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Luna who was found murdered in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, because his E-ZPass card left a trail from Baltimore, Maryland where he worked. The records prompted them to interview people along his route.
Since 1998, the New York Thruway System has received 128 subpoenas from law enforcement and has turned over 61 records in response, according to Thruway officials. New York State has issued electronic toll cards for more than 5 million vehicles so officials contend that the number of requests is miniscule.
According to newspaper reports, a man checked his wife’s electronic toll records during a custody battle, and New York City officials last month verified through toll records that 30 police detectives had falsely claimed overtime. The records showed they were not on the job as they had declared.
Other published reports note that Massachusetts authorities have requested more general information about motorists such as ‘have any large trucks passed through a certain entrance or exit during a time period of interest.' Massachusetts Turnpike officials said that they received six subpoenas in 2002 and, like their New York counterparts, do not automatically respond to requests but contest those they deem inappropriate.
What makes privacy advocates even more concerned is that electronic toll systems are pegged to a driver’s credit card, offering greater potential for abuse by investigators.
The first case of electronic toll record tracking may have been in September 1997, when the New York City Police Department used E-Z Pass toll records to track the movements of a car owned by New Jersey millionaire Nelson G. Gross who had been abducted and murdered. The police did not use a subpoena to obtain these records but asked the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and they complied. Now, most highway authorities insist that police produce a court order before personal driver records are handed over.