The provincial government has been intercepting Bluetooth signals from technology in people’s vehicles to study traffic patterns but stresses there is no risk of breaches of private data.
Bluetooth is a wireless technology facilitating data exchanges between mobile and fixed devices using short-wavelength radio waves in the medical, scientific and industrial bands over short distances.
In vehicles, it can be used to connect mobile phones to cars as they are made discoverable.
The province has also used licence plate recognition and radio frequency identification to track vehicles, indicate documents obtained by Glacier Media under access to information laws.
“The ministry can confirm that Bluetooth detection is used on Highways 91 and 99 to estimate travel time and update changeable message signs as needed,” the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in a statement. “It is also a traffic management tool that is being used on a temporary basis through the construction zones on Highways 14 and 1 on Vancouver Island.”
The data is used to record a vehicle at one point and see how long it takes to reach a second point to determine the vehicle’s average speed.
The ministry said there is no disclosure of collected information because the data collected from active Bluetooth broadcasts contains no personal information nor can it be linked to a particular vehicle or individual.
Detection stations pick up the information if a Bluetooth-enabled device such as a phone is set to discoverable.
“Users who have privacy concerns are able to turn off the Bluetooth discovery function of their device which prevents it being read by the system at all,” a February 2016 report from PBX Engineering said.
However, the report noted, there are other Bluetooth devices in a vehicle.
“The world’s major car manufacturers offer Bluetooth-enabled technology in the car, including hands-free calling, music streaming, PC and tablet tethering, navigation, proximity sensors, entertainment systems and car diagnostics,” the report said.
There could also be GPS units, hands-free headsets, automotive telematics units, mp3 players and other Bluetooth devices in a vehicle.
But, the report said, the ministry has been using a product called BlueTOAD to capture Media Access Control or MAC signals, identifiers of which are factory-set and not tracked through the sales process to the end user.
Also, data is expunged once it is used, documents said.
“Bluetooth MAC addresses are not known at this time to be associated with or traceable to any specific user account of any specific vehicle via a central registry or database,” a 2018 provincial privacy impact assessment said.
The report noted licence plate recognition systems involve equipment, configuration and tuning for effectiveness while radio frequency identifiers can denote specific vehicles and risk privacy issues. Both can be used to track speeds between two points.
The document noted nine Bluetooth station would cost $16,500 compared to $700,000 for a licence plate system.