Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Brazil to have compulsory toll tags by July 2014 (SINIAV)

In the past week, Austrian-based toll system supplier Kapsch published a press release announcing it had won a contract to supply tags to Brazil.

Not particularly significant for anyone beyond Kapsch on first appearance, but in fact it is something a little different from simply supplying tags for a toll road. The press release alludes to Brazil's programme for a national compulsory electronic vehicle ID system that, in effect, means all vehicles in Brazil having what is equivalent to DSRC based toll tags.

The press release states:

SINIAV (Sistema Nacional de Identificação Automática de Veículos) is organized by the Ministry of the Cities (MC) and the National Traffic Committee (CONTRAN) in Brazil and foresees the mandatory electronic registration for all vehicles in the country, including passenger cars, trucks and motorbikes. 

All very well, and let me be very clear.  The press release does not claim Kapsch is the supplier of tags for all vehicles in Brazil or even part of them, but it also does not link them to toll roads, so the impression is that Kapsch is at least a partial supplier of tags for vehicles in Brazil.

So what is SINIAV about? Well the allegedly official website for the programme (it was on the Kapsch press release but I am unconvinced given the content on the website) has rather limited information.   I am unconvinced that the site is official because it contains language (admittedly in Portuguese) that raises some of the privacy concerns around the system.
It claims:

The SINIAV tag will include data on the number of the chip, board, chassis and vehicle identifier (registration number). 

The programme was authorised by law in 2006 with the primary motivation being to address vehicle related crime, a secondary one to help in fleet management of commercial vehicles It also claims that the system will mean the “end of auto theft” because the Police will be able to identify through triangulation the location of the vehicle (presumably the Police will be “polling” vehicles constantly for a particular ID or will have fixed transceiver stations to “poll” passing vehicles). 

The website from the Federal Transport Ministry indicates that the tags can be passive or active RFID, indicating either a basic sticker tag or a more sophisticated "beeping, lights" type unit being available.

A lot more useful information came from a presentation at an IBTTA conference in 2011 by Dario Sassi Thober of the Wernhervon Braun Center for Advanced Research.  The Wernhervon Braun Center appears to have been contracted to develop security and data protocols and design for the standards used for SINIAV.   The key points from Thober's presentation are:

- SINIAV is linked to state and national vehicle databases, as it is states that manage vehicle registration, but the national agency DENATRAN manages the exchange of such data. The system is designed to be seamless with the creation (and presumably change and destruction) of vehicle number plates.   It will facilitate states requesting data about vehicle owners related to traffic and criminal law enforcement.

- SINIAV is also intended to provide a platform for electronic free flow tolling across Brazil, reducing and ultimately eliminating the need for manual tolls and automatic number plate recognition systems.  This will greatly facilitate more tolling and ease the difficulties in implementing urban congestion charging in cities such as Sao Paulo;

- 30 June 2014 is the deadline for all vehicles to have tags installed, including motorcycles.  The SINIAV website suggests that by the end of August 2013 all new vehicles sold in Brazil will have to be equipped.

- SINIAV has a centralised national back office retaining data not only of vehicles but also violations and other irregular activities which may be legal or financially related (e.g. tax or debts). Thober’s presentation has a good representation of the data flows for the initiation of a vehicle into the system.

Related to SINIAV are two other programmes.  

One called Brasil-ID will use SINIAV technology for cargo tracking, both based on the vehicle and on the cargo itself (by attaching RFID tags to containers and pallets). Brasil-ID is about truck cargo identification, tracking and authentication, and appears to be related to tracking goods for tax compliance purposes (e.g tariffs or local sales taxes) and deterring theft of cargo. 

The other is called SINRAV and includes GPS and GPRS systems to enable real time vehicle tracking.  This would theoretically allow for nationwide distance based tolling (VMT), but is currently subject to judicial review in the federal courts for fear of privacy infringements.   SINRAV appears to be a far longer term programme as it involves more expensive equipment on board vehicles, although it would be necessary to deliver the promise of seriously addressing vehicle theft.


Brazil is adopting an ambition programme that will make it ever easier to introduce tolling on major highways and urban congestion pricing, but it is driven by security.  The one thing SINIAV will do is make it difficult to swap number plates and raise the level of sophistication needed to change vehicle ID, essentially putting out of business a lot of petty theft of vehicles and leaving it to the serious professional vehicle thieves who can afford to spend serious money on replicating SINIAV tags to fool Police checks.

The bigger question is whether such electronic identification of vehicles, which seems like it would be the norm nowadays, could easily be rolled out in developed countries without privacy fears essentially halting it.  Meanwhile, identifying vehicles by a set of letters and numbers on a plate that needs to be visually read looks increasingly anachronistic.  Having that information recorded electronically makes sense, but what matters is how to link that data to the essential vehicle owner information and to protect that.  

SINIAV obviously will be useful in addressing vehicle theft, but could also be used for traffic infringement enforcement (e.g. speeding and traffic signals).  However, its limitations for tolling are essentially the extent to which roadside infrastructure exists to detect vehicles passing certain points on the network.

The logistics of the Brazilian programme are considerable, and I would bet it will be some years before all vehicles are caught.  Just because SINIAV will be compulsory does not mean that it will be universal, and I suspect a good 5-10% of all vehicles are likely to be outside the system for some time, unless Police are incentivised to identify, persuade and compel the outliers to join.

If anyone who is part of the SINIAV programme has anything to add, please feel free to contact me as I am happy to clarify or add more information as it comes available.


  1. In the United States, which is hardly a champion of privacy and civil liberties, the Supreme Court have determined that warrantless car tracking by law enforcement is inconstitutional, as it would be a violation of the 4th ammendment [1].

    It is therefore outrageous to think thant Brazilian law enforcement would track all vehicles all the time, and store the full location history of ever place the vehicle has ever been to in a database. Imagine what criminals (or corrupt officials) would do with that information once it leaks.

    The Order of Lawyers in Brazil (OAB) is already considering judicially stopping those measures as they are a grave violation of citizen's privacy rights [2][3].

    [1] http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/115317-why-the-supreme-court-shot-down-warrantless-gps-car-tracking-for-now
    [2] http://www.oabrj.org.br/detalheNoticia/74122/Para-procurador-da-OABRJ-rastreamento-de-carros-e-ilegal.html
    [3] http://www.diariosp.com.br/noticia/detalhe/30306/OAB-SP+condena+o+chip+de+carro+que+autofiscaliza

    1. Excelent post. I would like to add this link to this comment:
      Dark side of SINIAV - http://siniav.wordpress.com/