Police use of Compass Card data raises alarm for B.C. civil liberties advocate

[They are voluntarily providing information about their customers without warrants. TransLink should use more discretion over what information it shares, B.C. Civil Liberties Association says. See also: Privacy concerns raised over TransLink's new fare card. *RON*]

CBC News, 9 August 2017

While it is permitted for TransLink to share data with the police, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says it should exercise more discretion. (David Horemans/CBC)
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is raising the alarm after an investigation revealed TransLink routinely shares rider information with police without warrants or informing riders about it.

If a transit user is registered with TransLink's Compass Card program — a smart card payment system for Metro Vancouver's regional public transit network — the system can store and collect passenger travel data, credit card information and other personal details.

The investigation by news website The Tyee found that in 2016, TransLink received 147 police requests for rider data and fulfilled 111. So far this year, TransLink has received 132 requests and fulfilled 82.

In comparison, according to the Toronto Star, Ontario's equivalent agency Metrolinx filled 12 of 26 requests and has almost a million more transit users.

Micheal Vonn, the policy director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, says sharing this kind of rider data between a public body and law enforcement is permitted under current legislation, but TransLink should exercise more discretion.

"They are well within their rights to say 'No, we would prefer you get a warrant if you are conducting a criminal investigation.' That's what most people think the police do when they are looking for information," she said.

TransLink's Compass Card system can collect and store travel history, personal contact information and credit card details. (CBC)
Vonn says it's worth considering whether the current legislation was meant for such technologically advanced ways of collecting information — and it could lead to situations where information people assume is private is easily shared.

"The provisions that were put in the data protection laws were put in at a time we didn't see this granularity of ordinary collection of information that was able to be accessed by the police," she said.
TransLink: We take privacy seriously

Mark Langmead, the director of Compass Card operations with TransLink, says "they take the protection of personal information very seriously."

Langmead says most of the police requests were in relation to missing persons or vulnerable people whose safety and security were at risk.

Even then, he said there are specific criteria that TransLink requires before it fulfills an information request from police.

"In all circumstances, the information request has to have an active police investigation, an active police file number, specific information that they're looking for and it has to be signed by a sworn officer," he said.

He said the numbers are higher this year than in 2016 because there has been a corresponding increase in Compass Card users. He also noted Compass was introduced in early 2016 and the fare gates were finally closed during summer 2016.
How to protect your data

Rider information is only collected from a registered Compass Card, ie. users have entered their Compass Card information onto TransLink's online database for account protection, to buy tickets online or to automatically load a monthly pass.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says if somone wants to keep their data private, they can still use a Compass card without registering it on the online system.

In addition, they say they can also avoid creating a data trail by using cash when they're taking the bus or SkyTrain and only using cash, not credit card, to refill their non-registered card.

With files from The Early Edition and Anita Bathe


Popular posts from this blog

“Who cares, I have nothing to hide” — Why the popular response to online privacy is so flawed

Israel and US Hide Names of Companies Supporting Israeli Settlements

Does Even Mark Zuckerberg Know What Facebook Is?