WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), the Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct an independent review to determine whether E-ZPass data of New Jersey drivers was repeatedly accessed by officials at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ) without proper authority and, potentially, for political purposes. In the letter, Pallone made clear that any such actions violate New Jersey law and that, since New Jersey’s Attorney General is appointed by Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) and has not announced any plans to investigate these allegations, an independent review was necessary at this time.
“It is our duty as public servants to protect the public trust,” Pallone said in the letter. “These incidents seem to demonstrate the exact opposite, showing a remarkable abuse of power and violation of privacy.”
New Jersey law states that toll records may not be released to any person, including a government agency, without a subpoena or a court order. However, in an April 2012 Senate hearing, PANYNJ Deputy Executive Director William Baroni repeatedly referenced the personal E-ZPass data of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg. Lautenberg’s private travel records were then referred to once again at a press conference held by Governor Christie. Recently, Mr. Baroni, appearing before the state legislature, also referenced detailed travel information of New Jersey drivers obtained through a review of E-ZPass records.
“The use of this data seems to go well beyond any overarching general use of statistical data for analytical purposes, and rather seems to be specific examination of the E-ZPass usage of individual drivers,” Pallone stated.
The full text of the letter is below:
January 12, 2015
The Honorable Eric Holder
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Attorney General Holder:
I write to raise a matter of great concern. Recent media reports indicate that protected consumer E-ZPass data was repeatedly accessed by staff of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ), and possibly by other government agencies, without proper authority and used for public, inappropriate, and possibly politically retaliatory purposes. I request that you direct your office to begin an immediate investigation of these breaches of privacy, and possible criminal access and use of data.
Media reports detail the well-publicized NJ Senate testimony of former PANYNJ Deputy Executive Director William Baroni, in which he repeatedly cites in his testimony the personal E-ZPass data of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg. This information was also later referred to in a press conference by Governor Christie. Reports also detail Mr. Baroni’s testimony before the NJ State Legislature, in which he refers repeatedly to detailed travel information of drivers obtained through review of E-ZPass records. Specifically, Mr. Baroni refers to travel of residents of the town of Sayreville, NJ, which is part of my Congressional District. The use of this data seems to go well beyond any overarching general use of statistical data for analytical purposes, and rather seems to be specific examination of the E-ZPass usage of individual drivers.
Such actions violate New Jersey law and are a breach of the public trust. Mr. Baroni, appointed to his position by Governor Christie, and others who may have violated the law should be held accountable. New Jersey’s Attorney General, also appointed by Governor Christie, has not announced any intention of investigating these allegations. Therefore, I ask that your office review these breaches of privacy and the actions of public officials to determine whether there is an actionable violation of law for the Department of Justice to pursue. I believe an independent review is critical at this time.
It is our duty as public servants to protect the public trust. These incidents seem to demonstrate the exact opposite, showing a remarkable abuse of power and violation of privacy.
FRANK PALLONE, JR.
Member of Congress
CC: Honorable Edith Ramirez, Chairwoman, Federal Trade Commission