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Decode

NHAI's 'One Vehicle, One FASTag': Toll Reform Or Privacy Red Flag?

The National Highways Authority of India has implemented the 'One Vehicle, One FASTag' move which mandates FASTags to undergo the KYC process by January 31 to prevent deactivation.

By - Hera Rizwan | 24 Jan 2024 9:11 AM GMT

In a bid to tackle instances of multiple FASTags being linked to a single vehicle, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has introduced the 'One Vehicle, One FASTag' initiative. The Authority has mandated citizens to undergo the Know Your Customer (KYC) process and complete tagging by the end of the month to prevent deactivation.

Reportedly, the Centre also plans to begin testing GPS-based toll collections on select highways from next month. Under the new system, which is set to replace FASTags, toll will be collected on the go, ending the need for dedicated toll plazas. This will require geofencing of highways using global positioning system (GPS). It will run on new vehicles which already have built-in GPS devices, older vehicles will need to install them.

FASTag is an electronic toll collection system implemented in India to make toll payments on highways more efficient. It uses Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to enable automatic deduction of toll charges from a prepaid account linked to the FASTag sticker affixed on a vehicle's windshield.

What does the new system entail?

According to the national authority, the ‘One Vehicle, One FASTag’ initiative will help to make toll operations "more efficient and ensure seamless and comfortable journeys for the National Highway users". 

As per the current system, individuals can have a single FASTag for multiple vehicles. The system also allowed linking multiple FASTags to a particular vehicle. However, now the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has mandated all FASTag users to comply with one FASTag one vehicle rule and discard all earlier issued FASTags from their respective banks.

Users can either update their FASTags online or by reaching out to the nearest toll plazas or toll-free customer care numbers of their respective issuer banks. According to the RBI guidelines, the FASTag KYC update requires registration certificate of the vehicle, identity proof and address proof (Passport/Voter's ID/Aadhar Card/Driving license/PAN card/NREGA Job card), and a passport-size.

However, the move also raises concerns over the potential escalation of surveillance in the country. Decode spoke to experts to explore whether the initiative was necessary in the first instance and how this obligation might jeopardize citizens' privacy rights, beyond fulfilling its intended purpose.

Do we really need KYC for FASTag?

KYC, which stands for "Know Your Customer", is a process that financial institutions and other businesses use to verify and identify customers. The KYC process is touted as a crucial step in preventing identity theft, fraud, money laundering, and other illegal activities.

During KYC, individuals or entities are required to provide documents, such as, Aadhaar number, that establish their identity, address, and other relevant details. 

Srikanth L from CashlessConsumer suggests that while the intention behind connecting KYC with FASTag appears to be a measure to prevent fraud, various types of fraud have been observed across different KYC instruments, including Aadhaar.

CashlessConsumer is a consumer collective dedicated to enhancing awareness and comprehension of digital payments technology.

He said, "KYC is generally a requirement for PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) compliance as per statute. There haven't been known cases where money laundering has happened through paying toll charges."

According to Srikanth, the existing FASTag system, with multi-tag support is more lenient and provides individuals with increased privacy, as opposed to the ‘One Vehicle, One FASTag’, which will be more closely linked to identity. He added, "The KYC mandate will make the system more restricted. The shift also amplifies the potential risk of FASTag data exposure in the event of any transactional data leaks."

What could be the potential privacy risks?

Speaking to Decode, tech lawyer Salman Waris explained how the initiative is shrouded with serious concerns around FASTag data being misused for unauthorised surveillance by agencies if shared with various entities or if they fall into the wrong hands due to breaches or hacking. He said, "FASTag data includes information that is personally identifiable with the vehicle owner and with the KYC now being mandated and the same linked to Aadhaar, the risks become more grave."

In 2019, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, had informed Rajya Sabha that the government provided access to VAHAN and SARATHI database to 32 government and 87 private entities for Rs 65 crore. VAHAN and SARATHI  are integrated online platforms used by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in India for managing various aspects related to vehicle registrations and driving licenses.

Alluding to the practice of such data sharing by the government, Waris said, "This has further been increased and there is even government initiative to license these data to BigTech and private entities in order to earn revenue." The list of entities with which the two databases have been shared comprises Mercedes Benz, BMW, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance, Axis Bank, L&T Financial Services among others.

According to the tech lawyer, "This is in clear violation of the Supreme Court order in relation to sharing of Aadhaar data where it ruled that Aadhaar can only be used for welfare schemes and for delivering state subsidies. It had barred private companies from using Aadhaar data for authenticating customers or for fulfilling KYC norms."

According to both experts, the 'One Vehicle, One FASTag' move could broaden the capability of tracking individuals. Waris said, "Such initiatives implemented without proper checks and balances would ultimately lead to a more intrusive system supporting a police state and goes against both the right to privacy and the Supreme Court judgement in the Puttaswamy case."

The landmark Puttaswamy case of 2017 recognised the fundamental right to privacy of every individual guaranteed by the Constitution.


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