New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's attempts to expose and embarrass the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg by revealing his private travel records based on his personal E-ZPass data have led to allegations that the governor and Port Authority of New York New Jersey (PANYNJ) officials may have gained unauthorized access to the information.
In a letter penned to Attorney General Eric Holder, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) asked for a Justice Department review of what “seem(ed) to demonstrate the exact opposite, showing a remarkable abuse of power and violation of privacy.”
At a Senate toll increase hearing in 2012, PANYNJ Deputy Executive Director William Baroni referred to Lautenberg's EZPass information — noting that Lautenberg had “only started paying tolls recently” and had logged 284 trips in two years on a free E-ZPass issued to him as a Port authority commissioner. Christie mentioned it as well during a press conference.
“So what's he doing going over the bridge or through the tunnel to New York three or four times a week for 2005 and 2006?... Did he ever spend any time in New Jersey?,” an ACLU blog quoted Christie as saying.
Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley at the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, who wrote the blog, expressed concern that "that every incident of abuse that actually happens casts a long shadow of chilling effects over those who just worry about how data might be used.”
Noting that “EZ Pass and other electronic toll booth systems should have the option for anonymous use,” Stanley pondered, “if officials feel comfortable using information against a senator, what is a lower ranking political official, let alone ordinary citizen, supposed to conclude about how data could be used against them?”
Indeed, Baroni made references to information in state drivers' E-ZPass records when he recently spoke before the New Jersey State Legislature.
New Jersey law expressly prohibits access to E-ZPass data without a court order or subpoena.
“The use of this data seems to go well beyond any overarching general use of statistical data for analytical purposes, and rather seems to be specific examination of the E-ZPass usage of individual drivers,” said Pallone, whose district includes Sayreville, N.J., a town whose drivers were referenced by Baroni before the legislature.
“I request that you direct your office to begin an immediate investigation of these breaches of privacy, and possible criminal access and use of data,” the Congressman wrote.
It is not the first time that Christie has been accused of abuse of power, though he was exonerated in an investigation of last year's “Bridgegate” scandal, where his subordinates were accused of orchestrating political retaliation by ordering lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, essentially snarling traffic.
Ironically, the beleaguered governor recently moved to protect personal information in medical records, signing a bill requiring health insurers to encrypt sensitive data.