The Transport Department has installed 1,200 sets of traffic detectors on major Hong Kong thoroughfares, including hundreds of Bluetooth detectors. Some people have raised privacy concerns, while the department has emphasised that the system is aimed at calculating data such as the flow and speed of cars. It says it has conducted a privacy risk assessment beforehand, and data such as the address of a Bluetooth device will not be stored.
The Transport Department has stressed that each of the three types of detectors has different functions, and the data obtained and analysed, such as traffic snapshots, traffic flow, the speeds of cars and estimated driving time, will be published as open data. The department has emphasised that a privacy risk assessment has been done, and that drivers are generally accustomed to the presence of equipment that monitors road safety on roads. However, some people have doubts about the Bluetooth detectors and demand that the authorities disclose the exact locations of all detectors, the findings of the privacy reports and whether the data will be used for law enforcement purposes. A Bluetooth traffic detector calculates a vehicle's speed and travel time by detecting the Bluetooth devices that are enabled on the vehicle that passes by. Many people now use Bluetooth hands-free headsets when driving and travelling. Some people have questioned whether Bluetooth traffic detectors can be abused and turned into surveillance tools, while the Transport Department says that the system will not store a Bluetooth device's MAC address (a unique code used to identify the device). Once the calculation is completed, data of the MAC address will be automatically deleted. Since only data about travel time is preserved, the public does not need to worry, says the department.
Hong Kong society is deeply divided, and some people have zero trust in the government. Despite the Transport Department's pledges, those who believe the government will continue to believe it, while those who do not will continue their distrust. But having said that, if some people are really worried about leaving behind any traces or their whereabouts for some reason, they can simply turn off Bluetooth on their mobile phones or other devices. Objectively speaking, there is some kind of difference between the installation of traffic detectors on expressways and a large number of smart lampposts in a downtown area. The presence of detectors on thoroughfares is very useful for monitoring the real-time conditions of the road. Imagine some sudden traffic congestion on Lung Cheung Road or a section of the Island Eastern Corridor. If the situation can be grasped as soon as possible and a driver is told to make a detour, that will bring convenience to many people. A huge presence of these devices in the inner streets of urban areas, in contrast, will not be too useful but will instead give rise to privacy concerns easily. No doubt if the Transport Department can consult the science and technology sector in advance and explore an alternative plan that is inexpensive but of good quality, it can reduce scepticism, and that will be a more ideal practice. There are views the law should be amended so that the ID of a personal device, such as the MAC address of a phone, should be covered by privacy protection. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data can follow up on whether such an amendment is necessary.
As 1,200 traffic detectors have already been installed, the Transport Department should try to enhance transparency concerning their operation so that the public knows which arteries have had these detectors installed and how the data will be used by the authorities. If citizens can feel the convenience and functions brought about by the system, it will be easier for them to accept it.