Graphic showing customer tapping Compass Card

TransLink faces criticism for sharing smart card data with police

TransLink (BC) is the most recent Canadian transit operator to come under fire for sharing smart card data with police.

For transit customers who register their Compass Card, the system collects travel data, credit card information, and personal details.

TransLink received 132 requests from law enforcement agencies for information on transit users in 2017 to date, and granted 82 requests.  In 2016, TransLink received 147 police requests and provided information on 111 individuals. Online new site The Tyee uncovered the arrangement through a freedom of information request.

“This doesn’t surprise us,because this has been an issue virtually everywhere that this kind of card for transit has been introduced,” British Columbia Civil Liberties Association policy director Micheal Vonn told Metro. “The question of police access to this data just comes with it.”

After similar questions were raised about the PRESTO Card, Metrolinx (ON) agreed to review its privacy policy.

TransLink director of Compass operations Mark Langmead issued a statement about the Compass privacy policy.  The statement read in part:

The privacy of our customers is a top priority for TransLink and something we take very seriously. All personal information is collected, used, and disclosed in strict accordance with British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA).

One of the reasons law enforcement requests information from TransLink is for emergency situations that could pose an immediate threat to the safety and security of a person.  Many of these types of requests are for missing persons.  For example, if a senior citizen who suffers from dementia disappears from a care home, police may request that TransLink provide them with that individual’s ridership information if it could help police locate the missing person.

Langmead reminded customers that registering a TransLink card was voluntary and customers could choose to purchase a card with cash to remain anonymous.

This is not the first time advocates have raised concerns about TransLink’s privacy policies.  In 2016, shortly after the Compass Card was introduced, BCCLA questioned transit police use of hand-held units to check for stolen, expired, or invalid cards. The spot checks could access financial and travel history for the 10 most recent trips, but personal information was not available. Link to full story in Metro.

Image source: Compass Card

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