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Privacy International warns of public transit card hazards

Loek Essers | Oct. 30, 2012
Public transportation companies and authorities in the U.S., Canada and South Africa hand over private information about travelers gathered by electronic ticketing systems to law enforcement agencies on a voluntary basis, Privacy International said Monday.

Conflicting laws led to privacy concerns during the introduction of the OV-chip card in the Netherlands, said Anita Hilhorst, spokeswoman for Trans Link Systems (TLS), an organization that was founded by the five largest Dutch public transport companies to implement a single payment system for public transport.

"We started with seven years of data retention at the request of the ministry of Finance," Hilhorst said. Later, the retention period was reduced to two years and after an audit by the Dutch Data Protection Authority, the retention period was reduced further to 18 months, she added.

Law enforcement agencies request OV-chip card data "a couple of times a week," said Hilhorst. The type of information depends on the request and cannot be disclosed by TLS, she said. One reason law enforcement requests OV-chip card data is to track down missing persons, she said. "Those requests are to be handled with great urgency," she said.

Privacy International's main goal is to warn travelers using public transit chip cards that their privacy could be in jeopardy due to legislative shortcomings and the data hunger of law enforcement agencies, King said. "We want to convince companies and authorities to demand a warrant," when law enforcement authorities request private data, he added.

Law enforcement agencies always want to increase the amount of data they can access, according to King. In the U.K., for instance, the new Draft Communications Data Bill, if passed, could be used to increase law enforcement access to personal data of travelers, he said. "The police say the amount of data they can access has been reduced over the years," he said. However, according to Privacy International, the personal data that can be accessed by law enforcement has only grown due to the introduction of the new electronic systems that store and track customer information.

Travelers who are worried about their privacy are advised to "always try and use a prepaid chip card paid for with cash," said King. Using electronic transit cards in that way makes it possible to travel anonymously. Concerned E.U. travelers can also file a subject access request that requires European data processors to disclose what personal data they store, King added.

Privacy International plans to disclose more responses from transit authorities and companies on its website in the future. The organization has polled organizations in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French speaking countries, which will be given another month or so to respond, King said.

 

 

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