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Consumer Confidential: FasTrak agencies may have sold out your privacy. Now they want legal immunity

David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES -- Transit authorities statewide have been targeted with lawsuits alleging that, among other privacy violations, information from toll-road transponders -- think FasTrak -- is being used to illegally market to drivers.

Transit agencies have taken the legal threat seriously enough that they've enlisted a Southern California state senator to introduce legislation giving them retroactive immunity -- that is, a get-out-of-jail-free card for any past misdeeds.

At stake is potentially billions of dollars in fines.

And also your personal information.

"The transit agencies are apparently saying that there have been so many violations, if they don't receive retroactive protection, they could be wiped out," said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a Sacramento advocacy group.

"This bill basically says that all that bad stuff they did, it's now legal," she told me.

 

This is a complicated issue, and the legislation, Senate Bill 664, remains a work in progress. But after speaking with the bill's author, state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt -- even though, as you'll see, his methods were less than desirable.

"I've always been a privacy guy," Allen told me, clearly sensitive to charges from consumer advocates that he's selling out people's personal data.

"I want to be helpful to the transit agencies," he said. "That is the only reason for my being involved with this bill. I intend to keep things really tight and not screw around with privacy concerns."

California is interlaced with toll roads and bridges. The state's largest network of toll roads is in Orange County, with more than 330,000 daily trips.

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