News & Politics

One of NSA’s Biggest Contractors Will Now Be Recording Your License Plate Numbers

Raytheon was recently awarded a huge contract to install all-electronic tolling systems.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/spirit of america

Technology and defense giant Raytheon was recently awarded a $130 million contract to install all-electronic tolling systems on the Massachusetts Turnpike and at several local tunnels. A unit of the company’s Integrated Defense Systems business will install the system over the next year and a half. By replacing manual and electronic toll-collection booths with a system that will automatically charge vehicles, cars will be able to maintain highway speeds as they pass through the station, easing traffic congestion and cutting down driving time for commuters.

Sounds great, right? But here’s the catch: Raytheon is one of the National Security Agency’s biggest contractors. Early last year, in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, documents emerged providing details on “Perfect Citizen,” a controversial program coordinated by Raytheon and the NSA to protect the U.S. power grid from cyber attacks. While the aim of the program is laudable on the surface, the methods deployed provoked some pointed questions. The NSA repeatedly claimed the project was purely research based and did not involve monitoring communications or using sensors to monitor utility company's computer systems. But evidence later emerged that the exact opposite was true—“Project Citizen” did in fact use computer sensors that could detect illegitimate cyberactivity, yet another way the mammoth security agency engaged in intrusive digital monitoring. 

Under the new “image-based tolling” system in Massachusetts, all cars that pass through the tolls will have their license plates photographed and the invoice will be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle. Sure, it’s simple and works similarly to how the E-ZPass system currently functions. But in an era where cops store mass databases of our license plate numbers and use dragnet video surveillance to track our vehicular comings and goings, the idea of an NSA contractor systematically collecting that information is unsettling, to say the least.  

Allegra Kirkland is AlterNet's associate managing editor. Her writing has appeared in the Chicago Reader, Salon, Daily Serving and The Nation.

Stay Ahead of the Rest
Sign Up for AlterNet's Daily Newsletter
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Rights & Liberties
Personal Health