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Can high-quality travel data be collected anonymously?

Collecting high-quality travel data while protecting travelers' privacy

One challenge facing transportation experts is finding the best methods and data management practices to protect the privacy of data they collect.

For the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) Transportation Research Board (TRB), Westat is analyzing and recommending methods used for making transportation data anonymous, including data collected in surveys and from GPS devices, wireless “RFID” tags (such as EZPASS), and roadside sensors used to count vehicles or read license plates.

  • We conducted an inventory and assessment of methods used for making transportation data anonymous that don’t limit the data’s usefulness.
  • We are reviewing the legal and ethical issues related to protecting personally identifiable information when electronically collecting transportation data.
  • We will describe different methods available for protecting privacy to assist transportation professionals in implementing the strategies.
  • This NAS-sponsored project focuses on an issue of great importance to travelers and the transportation research and operations communities. Electronic data are readily available from smartphones, GPS devices, in-vehicle navigation systems, electronic toll collection systems, and roadside monitors.
  • Although of great value to researchers and traffic operations professionals, the data must be made available in a format that protects personal identities and private travel information.
  • The results of this research will inform federal, state, and local agencies on best practices to accomplish that goal.

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