Will FASTag raise privacy concerns?

by Shreya Nandi and Prathma Sharma — last modified Oct 18, 2019 03:22 PM
FASTag, an electronic device that enables direct, cashless toll payment, has been touted as the Aadhaar for vehicles as it would help the government track movement of automobiles. But the move can also stoke fresh concerns on privacy.

The article by Shreya Nandi and Prathma Sharma was published in Livemint on October 15, 2019. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.

The device can track movement of vehicles, toll booth cameras can catch traffic law violations, prevent crime, and help authorities curb tax evasion.

While the movement of commercial vehicles will be tracked by revenue authorities by integrating with e-way bill system under Goods and Services Tax (GST) to curb revenue leakage, experts believe that tracking personal vehicle is a matter of concern.

It is not that the government will only use the stored data or video under limited and well-defined circumstances such as for evidence in case of traffic accidents, according to Pranesh Prakash, fellow, Centre for Internet Society.

“As transport minister Gadkari said (on Monday), the government will also use the video or data for any for analysis. And that will happen in a non-consensual manner, and outside the purview of a data protection framework, and without paying heed to the Supreme Court's landmark judgment on privacy," Prakash said.

On Monday, transport minister Nitin Gadkari said cameras at the toll booth will take photos of passengers in a vehicle, which will be useful for the home ministry as there will be a record of the vehicle’s movement.

FASTag, which comes into effect 1 December, uses radio frequency identification technology to enable direct toll payments from a moving vehicle. The toll fare is deducted from the bank account linked to FASTag. It will not only encourage cashless payments at toll plaza, but also decongest national highways, thereby ensuring seamless movement of vehicles, and reduce pollution and logistics cost.

Amid privacy concerns related to sharing Aadhaar details with banks, telecom companies or any other authority for fulfilling KYC norms, the Supreme Court had in September last year ruled that Aadhaar can only be used for welfare schemes and for delivering state subsidies. It had barred private companies from using Aadhaar data for authenticating customers.
Another expert said since FASTag data includes information that is personally identifiable with the vehicle owner, it can be misused if shared with various entities.
"With FASTag being linked with National Vehicle Database (Vahan database), it does raise privacy concerns, specially as Nitin Gadkari, the minister of road transport and highways, has admitted that the government has provided access to Vahan and Sarathi database to 32 government and 87 private entities for ₹65 crore till date," Salman Waris Managing Partner, TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors, said.

“With the Personal Data Protection Bill still in the making there are little regulatory measures to prevent or even punish FasTag data breaches," Waris said.