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City traffic tracking system poses no privacy risk

Post Date:12/15/2017 3:00 PM

Contact: Tom Hacker, 962-2302

New technology being used by City of Loveland traffic engineers to monitor vehicle movement along busy streets does not pose privacy risks to citizens, contrary to a misleading report published on a Loveland internet news site that has become a topic of social media discussion.

Loveland has joined many municipalities, including Greeley, Boulder and Longmont in this region and scores of others worldwide, in deploying a sensor-based system to gather data from moving vehicles that can be used for signal timing adjustments and other measures that ease traffic congestion and enhance safety.

The system developed by Denver-based technology company Acyclica deploys small scanners, spaced along routes such as Eisenhower Boulevard and the U.S. Highway 287 corridor. The scanners detect Wi-Fi signals emanating from wireless devices in vehicles, such as cell phones and tablets, that can be tracked along those routes to measure progress.

During a Dec. 5 presentation to the Loveland City Council, Interim Public Works Director Jeff Bailey described how the system works as part of the City’s Intelligent Transportation System plan. Bailey also sought the Council’s authorization to pay for its operation through a $380,000 federal grant administered by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The system is designed to provide information about vehicle movement that can serve to reduce congestion on Loveland streets as well as give regional planners origin-and-destination data that can be used to design more efficient transportation systems, Bailey told City Council members.

A Dec. 11 article on the news website carried the headline “City To Begin Tracking You Via Your Mobile Phone.” The post’s unidentified author wrote that Bailey had “provided false information to the council and public” during his presentation. 

Bailey had assured City Council members, and a citizen who had raised questions, that the signals picked up by the traffic sensors were incapable of providing information that could identify any person.

An independent study of the Acyclica system conducted by consultant Coalfire Technologies also concludes that personal privacy is not at risk. The seven-page technical analysis states that the Acyclica system design “precludes any direct connection to the device owner and cannot indicate any personally identifiable information.”

The study was the result of questions raised by citizen privacy advocates in Seattle, where that city’s transportation department deployed the Acyclica system in 2015. A group called the Seattle Privacy Coalition said installation of the technology violated a city ordinance that required city council approval before deploying technology capable of capturing individual surveillance data.

Seattle’s information technology director found that the Acyclica system was not subject to the surveillance ordinance “because it is not surveillance technology.” The system remains in use throughout Seattle without controversy.

A request for authorization of grant funds for expanding operation of the Acyclica system in Loveland will return to City Council Jan. 2 for consideration on second reading. Councilors on Dec. 5 voted 9-0 to authorize the use of the grant funds.

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