Announced sale of US toll giant to Singapore-based firm sparks security concerns
Experts are sounding alarms over the sale of TransCore to Singapore Technologies Engineering
Americans who sign up for automatic payments at toll booths provide sensitive information, such as their home addresses, credit card numbers, driver's license information and license plate numbers, in order to speed their commutes.
But that information, along with U.S. traffic patterns and vulnerabilities at airports and military bases, could end up in the hands of other nations – including adversaries – if the pending sale of the nation's major tolling company, TransCore, to a Singapore-based firm goes through, experts told FOX Business.
They say the sale raises concerns about not only the potential sharing of personal data, but of risks to national security.
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Nashville-based TransCore is responsible for roughly 70% of the tolls Americans pay through operations like its E-ZPass payment system, used in "24 of the 25 states that have toll roads," according to an SEC filing from 2017.
The company's website notes that "11 of the 15 largest toll agencies in the United States utilize TransCore toll collection systems for every type of tolling system."
TransCore is owned by Florida-based Roper Technologies, which announced in early October that it was being bought by Singapore Technologies Engineering, known as ST Engineering, for $2.68 billion.
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ST Engineering is a defense and engineering firm that sells to more than 100 other countries. Its majority shareholder is Temasek Holdings, which is required by law to help fund Singapore's budget each year and also does substantial business in China.
Given China's influence on both the Singapore government and Temasek, the communist nation and other countries could potentially end up with TransCore's data if ST Engineering is able to purchase the U.S. company, according to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to FOX Business on the condition of anonymity.
A second source, a transportation expert who also asked to remain anonymous, voiced the same security concerns and told FOX Business that TransCore data could be used to track the location of someone of high national interest in the U.S. by identifying an individual's toll route patterns.
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The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) under the Treasury Department has the power to put a stop the acquisition, but is prohibited by law from disclosing whether the transaction is being considered. However, ST Engineering confirmed to FOX Business that they did voluntarily file for CFIUS approval.
As of now, the deal stands a good chance of getting that nod.
ST Engineering has had great success buying U.S. companies, boasting in a statement earlier this year that it "has successfully obtained CFIUS approvals for all 11 of its past acquisitions in the U.S. where such clearances had been sought, including all three of its acquisitions in 2019."
"ST Engineering has been operating in the U.S. for more than 20 years, employing 5,000 people in 12 states around the country," ST Engineering North America chairman and president Tim McBride told FOX Business, noting that the U.S. headquarters is in Alexandria, Virginia.
A separate ST Engineering spokesperson dismissed the data-sharing concerns, saying, "TransCore’s business involves limited data in tolling and traffic management on behalf of its customers. TransCore customers own and control the data, how it is used and where it is stored. ST Engineering is committed to supporting TransCore in fulfilling its obligations to customers, including data protection requirements. To that end, all data will continue to be stored in the U.S."
One customer of TransCore is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is the largest transportation network in North America and covers the whole of New York City, other parts of New York state and Connecticut. The MTA does not appear concerned with the sale of TransCore to ST.
MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan told FOX Business in a statement, "The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority’s contract with TransCore provides explicit privacy and security protections which are binding on any new owner of the business, regardless of its location, and the MTA is confident its customers are appropriately protected from unauthorized disclosures."
After the sale, ST Engineering says it intends for TransCore to continue operating just as it does now under Roper Technologies, "with the same employees and management team."
As to claims that there is a risk of influence from the Singapore government, an ST Engineering spokesperson said, "As a stock exchange-listed commercial enterprise, ST Engineering operates based on commercial principles without any interference from the government or Temasek, and abides by sound corporate governance and compliance rules."
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Roper Technologies issued a statement to FOX Business, saying, "Roper is confident that ST Engineering will be an excellent long-term owner of TransCore given ST Engineering’s global presence, extensive operations in the U.S., and strong reputation among members of the business community and the U.S. Government."
FOX Business' sources, however, say there are government agencies in several states that "have significant questions about the data and impacts on homeland security," and intend to present their concerns to the Treasury Department committee.