- Police Beat
- The Forecaster
The Maine Department of Transportation is watching you.
So is the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Other state agencies could get in on that action, too, including nosy law-enforcement types who might have an extra-judicial interest in knowing where you’re going.
This isn’t some dystopian fantasy or example of Russian collusion or what passes for everyday life in the People’s Republic of China. It’s the new reality on Maine’s busiest highways.
Without asking permission from anyone, the state has begun accessing data from your cell phones and mobile devices to determine your location on the turnpike and Interstate system.
On April 17, the Portland Press Herald published a fluffy little story about how the DOT and MTA were spending $1.3 million on 10 high-tech signs at key spots on I-95 and I-295 that not only tell you how far you are from certain destinations, but also how long it will take to drive that distance under current traffic conditions.
“They update using location data scraped from cell phone apps and mobile devices to estimate traffic buildup and travel times,” the article said. “The location data is processed to remove identifying information,” according to a DOT official.
There’s nobody I trust more to remove identifying data than the transportation department. Except Facebook.
Even if all that spending on this unneeded technology is justified (it isn’t), the stuff about data scrubbing bears serious scrutiny. These bureaucrats aren’t even pretending they’re not invading your privacy by seizing your personal information without asking. They’re just claiming they aren’t using it to determine if you’re on your way to a massage parlor, a meeting of a terrorist cell, or headed for New Hampshire to buy cheap booze.
Because DOT totally could be doing that if it wasn’t such an ethical upholder of individual liberty.
What’s weird about this snooping is that nobody seems upset about it. It’s as if we’ve become so used to being under surveillance from store cams, digital assistants, and our internet service providers maintaining lists of every porn site we’ve ever visited (I was just doing research, honest) that we no longer care if Big Brother is watching.
That acceptance of intrusive government by a compliant public would make an excellent plot for a novel. Somebody should write that. Feel free to use the Big Brother thing.
In a rational world, there’d be no excuse for the state collecting this data without a court order issued after a judge reviewed evidence you were dealing drugs, bribing college admission officials or considering giving a prestigious award to Don McLean. In such a world, you’d be able to drive where you liked without worrying that anyone – particularly the government, teenage hackers or Alexa – was monitoring your progress.
But that’s not the world we live in. In our warped reality, we’re past the point where wearing tinfoil hats and underwear made from recycled plastic grocery bags is going to protect us. The FBI, CIA, NSA, ICE, TXD and UNICEF are all perfectly capable of reading your mind and monitoring your digestive system (except maybe TXD, which I made up). Compared to that, the DOT and MTA’s intrusions seem minor.
If, however, we’re ever going to reclaim our right to be left alone, we have to start somewhere. It’s either those damn highway signs or the microphones they’ve implanted in your walls.
If you email me now at firstname.lastname@example.org, your message will arrive in 15 seconds. How do I know this? Never mind.