ETC data request sparks surveillance concerns

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A request by police for all highway electronic toll records for what they call crime-fighting purposes has sparked concerns over illegal monitoring of motorists. The Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau (TANFB) said yesterday it has not yet provided the National Police Administration (NPA) with any such data, and it needs further clarification by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to see whether the request violates personal data protection laws. But the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) under the NPA stressed that the information will only be used to track vehicles involved in criminal activities, dismissing concerns that police are seeking to tighten control of the nation. The new electronic toll collection (ETC) system has been in full operation since Dec. 30, 2013, tracking and recording all vehicles that use the highways.

Police have their own vehicle tracking system along highways, expressways and major roads. But their tracking devices are installed at toll stations, which are being demolished now that the ETC is in full service. With such a big piece missing from its tracking system, the NPA has asked the TANFB to have Far Eastern Electronic Toll Collection Co. (FETC) provide police with the ETC data.

But the request has sparked concerns that police could misuse the information for unlawful monitoring. Some critics say the information could also be used for political purposes. The NPA request comes after a wiretapping scandal where Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng and Legislator Ker Chien-ming were put under surveillance by prosecutors last year. The MOJ has noted that a blanket collection of the ETC data without a specific target of investigation constitutes a violation of the personal data protection law.

Both the TANFB and the NPA have asked the MOJ to further clarify the lawfulness of collecting highway traffic data. Wu Mu-fu, deputy director of the TANFB, said the ETC data is meant only for toll collection purposes. The TANFB needs the MOJ to specify the circumstances where ETC data can be given to police and how much information can be disclosed without violating the personal data protection law, Wu said. The CIB, stressing that it has not obtained any ETC data yet, maintained that the information is sought to assist criminal investigations. It said only authorized police personnel will have access to ETC information to help with their specific investigations. The original tracking system was never misused since its installation in 2003, the CIB said, dismissing fears that the ETC data will be misused for political purposes.