February 9th, 2019

Transit user data, law enforcement, and fare collection.

As the MBTA makes its plans for AFC 2.0, its new fare collection system, it's important for all of us to keep privacy and due process in mind with a system that as currently proposed will require a one-to-one correspondence between riders and cards.

Certainly the legal framework is different in Massachusetts to what it is in Ontario. I've seen no suggestion that Massachusetts law enforcement intends to use its transit data in this way. Nonetheless, it's always best to get issues like this correct from the start.

From Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing (https://boingboing.net/2019/02/05/doug-ford-is-watching-you.html):
Metrolinx, the provincial agency that supplies the Presto cards used to pay for public transit rides in Toronto, has continued to hand over riders' travel history to Toronto-area cops without asking for a warrant.

Law enforcement requests to Metrolinx have mounted steadily, growing by 47% last year, and in 22% of cases, the agency handed travel history over to police without a warrant.

The Toronto Star first revealed this practice two years ago, but despite public outcry, Metrolinx continues to shun the rule of law, instead relying on what it calls "a balance" between "the commitment to protecting the privacy of Presto card users and maintaining the safety and security of the transit system and its passengers."

From https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/02/01/metrolinx-continues-to-share-presto-users-data-without-requiring-warrants.html:
“Broadly, the concern is that it’s very important that a mass transit system, a public transit system, doesn’t become a system of mass surveillance,” said Brenda McPhail, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s privacy, technology and surveillance project.