Centre for Internet & Society

The government plans to make digital tags in vehicles mandatory to ensure seamless passage at the toll booths, but the implementation of the proposed move may not be so smooth.

The article by Smriti Sharma Vasudeva was published in the Statesman on December 7, 2016. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.

On one hand, the digital tags stand to compromise the safety of the vehicle and the owners, while on the other, majority of automobiles manufacturing companies claim that the vehicles are being equipped with the digital tags since 2013 and it is the implementation of the order that has been grossly ineffective.

Post the recent demonetisation, as a part of the government’s efforts towards a cashless society, Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das stated that the union government has advised the automobile manufacturers to provide a digital identity tag in all new vehicles, including cars, to enable electronic payment at all toll plazas and ensure seamless movement at check posts.

He said the provision of Electronics Product Code Global Incorporated (EPCG)-compliant Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) facility in all new vehicles will ensure payment of toll digitally and also avoid the waiting time, and the vehicles will move seamlessly without having to wait at check posts. “This will improve the functioning of toll plaza, digital payments,” Das said.

In fact, the move to mandate all the vehicles with RFID tags was first made in 2013 when the then government made it compulsory to install Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on the medium and heavy motor vehicles through the proposed rule 138A of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989. However, the same could not be fully implemented for several reasons and was also opposed by public and advocacy groups alike.

In 2013, the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), a non-profit organisation sent an open letter to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) to urge them not to install RFID tags in vehicles in India as the legality; necessity and utility of RFID tags had not been adequately proven.

The letter stated that such technologies raise major ethical concerns, since India lacks privacy legislation, which could safeguard individual’s data. The letter added that the proposed rule 138A of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, mandates that RFID tags are installed in all light motor vehicles in India.

However, section 110 of the Motor Vehicles Act (MV Act), 1988, does not bestow on the Central Government a specific empowerment to create rules in respect to RFID tags. Thus, the legality of the proposed rule 138A is questioned, and we urge you to not proceed with an illegal installation of RFID tags in vehicles until the Supreme Court has clarified this issue.

Speaking to The Statesman, Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director, Centre for Internet and Society said, “Our stand remains the same as it was three years ago when we spoke out against this move: mandating RFID tags in all vehicles is a terrible idea, and a privacy and security nightmare. “It is important to ensure that RFID tagging (and other similar technologies, like automated licence plate readers) do not end up as a means of engaging in mass surveillance and tracking, which would be contrary to the judgments of the Supreme Court in cases like Kharak Singh vs the Union Government.

“The government has not provided any safeguards — such as mandating non-storage of any vehicle-identifying data. The government has asked manufacturers of all vehicles to include trackers, not just for goods vehicles or mass transport vehicles.

“Nor has the government come up with any standards to ensure security of the RFID tags — to prevent unauthorized third parties from tracking you or deducting money from your account. In short, the government should immediately retract its advice to vehicle manufacturers, and should work with experts to fix these problems,” Prakash said.