Thursday, October 11, 2007

TxDOT Secretly Photographed License Plates For Survey

Ahhh, your tax dollars at work spying on you...

Cameras tucked into orange barrels videotaped the license plates of thousands of drivers on Interstate 35 as part of a Texas Department of Transportation study of the busy highway, officials said.

Critics of last month's study questioned whether it invaded motorists' privacy. But a department spokeswoman said the study -- and more planned for the future -- are vital to transportation planning and are not meant to sneaky.

The state contracted Alliance Transportation Group Inc. for nearly $781,600 to conduct the study. The company mailed about 150,000 surveys to homes explaining that their license plate was randomly recorded and asking questions such as the trip's destination and purpose, and the number of people living in the home.

"It's one thing to study traffic patterns, but to ask all this personal information of people makes you wonder why they are doing it," said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. "This is more than Orwell ever imagined."

The cameras were placed at 21 locations Sept. 12-13 outside cities along a 450-mile stretch of Interstate 35 and nearby highways -- from north of Laredo to north of Dallas.
Transportation Department spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said the information won't be shared or sold and will be securely disposed of. The mailer also said responses are confidential and no personal information will be retained.

Garcia said the survey is the first time the state has conducted a comprehensive transportation study on the entire Interstate 35 corridor.

"With the heavy traffic demand already on I-35 -- one of the state's busiest interstate corridors -- this survey will help us better forecast future demand and needed improvements to I-35," Garcia said.

Garcia said the survey is voluntary. About 3,000 people have responded since it was mailed out three weeks ago. About 200 recipients have called a toll-free number listed on the survey, with most of them asking about its purpose and "a few callers unhappy that they received a survey," she said.

Chandra Bhat, a civil engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Transportation Research, said similar surveys have been conducted in numerous states. She said the drawbacks are that there can be problems with the data quality of a survey based on videotaping license plates, and the possibility for a negative public perception.
The department plans similar surveys next year in the Houston, Galveston, Beaumont and Port Arthur areas. Garcia said drivers will be notified ahead of time.

"It was by no means meant to be sneaky," Garcia said. "Lesson learned."

1 comment:

Sal Costello said...

TxDOT, eager to Toll Tax Texas interstate I-35, begins to track, trace, and poll I-35 drivers.

Think Hutchison's bill stops TxDOT from tolling I-35? Think again. There is a loophole that allows TxDOT to use our gas tax dollars to build new toll lanes. That's a Double Tax.

Learn more here about the rogue agency we call TxDOT: