WA Police using Smartrider public transport data to track people

WA Today reports that police are weekly requesting personal information from Perth’s public transport system without a subpoena – and are receiving it.

Police using Smartrider to track people

Police are using the Public Transport Authority’s Smartrider electronic ticketing system to track people’s movements across the network, prompting debate over whether the use of the technology is eroding civil rights.[…]

PTA spokesman David Hynes said every time a person swiped the card the time and location was recorded, enabling a person’s movements to be tracked across the network.[…]

Mr Hynes said police were asking for information weekly and “99 per cent” of the time received it. […]

Mr Hynes said the PTA had strict privacy rules and police had to fill out a form detailing the reasons for the request before any information was released.

He likened the use of the Smartrider system to a passport and said the PTA had not received any complaints.

Except it’s not a passport, people aren’t giving informed consent to the release of their data, and the police are accessing this data without a subpoena.

Does the Privacy Act not apply?

Your thoughts?



Categories: law & order, Politics

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9 replies

  1. Looks pretty dodgy to me, but I don’t know how the privacy law works in WA. I wonder if I could fill out a form and get the information? It doesn’t seem like a very hard test to meet to me. I suppose if good enough protections were built into the system, it could be an acceptable way for police to gather information, but I would want the test to be quite difficult to meet – maybe a court order rather than just filling out a form.
    The passport analogy doesn’t work at all.

  2. jesus. I’m normally a bit sceptical of the tin-hat-wearing crowd who like to yell ‘invasion of privacy’ every 5 minutes, but in this instance, sign me up. I really want the cops to have to try a bit harder to prove they need that information, and to have to come up with a subpoena to get it.

  3. jesus. I’m normally a bit sceptical of the tin-hat-wearing crowd who like to yell ‘invasion of privacy’ every 5 minutes, but in this instance, sign me up. I really want the cops to have to try a bit harder to prove they need that information, and to have to come up with a subpoena to get it.

  4. jesus. I’m normally a bit sceptical of the tin-hat-wearing crowd who like to yell ‘invasion of privacy’ every 5 minutes, but in this instance, sign me up. I really want the cops to have to try a bit harder to prove they need that information, and to have to come up with a subpoena to get it.

  5. Something that particularly struck me about this measure is that it disproportionately invades the privacy of people with less money, who are less likely to have access to private transport. Shelf, on my dreamwidth, said that you can’t get concession prices on Perth public transport without registering your Smartrider – so it’s very clear that poor and disabled people are particularly targeted by this privacy invasion.
    It’s also yet one more measure (like non-working lifts) that has the potential to discourage people from taking public transport in the first place. Really, folks? This is what we want to do?

  6. Private transport is no protection.
    In the UK our police are already using Automatic Numberplace Recognition Cameras (ANRP) to map people’s car journeys and keep it in a database for five years with no legal or judicial oversight whatsoever (even the information commissioner says it doesn’t fall under his remit).

  7. DEM: That is not the case here, to the best of my knowledge.

  8. On privacy in WA public sector agencies, which like all State public sector agencies are not covered under Federal privacy legislation:

    The State public sector in Western Australia does not currently have a legislative privacy regime. Various confidentiality provisions cover government agencies and some of the privacy principles are provided for in the Freedom of Information Act 1992.

    Not that I’m a lawyer, but yes, it looks like the Privacy Act does not apply.
    In NSW (where I live) we have the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 which certainly would protect individuals’ information from being accessed, say, by Deborah filling out a form as she suggested at comment #1, but the Police and various other investigative agencies (ICAC, PIC etc.) are specifically exempt from the privacy principles.
    When our Supreme Court judge Marcus Einfeld was convicted of perjury a year or two ago, I recall that some of the crucial bits of evidence were speeding camera, toll road and mobile phone records. Mind you we can also be rather less subtle over here on the East Coast—after the 2005 riots there were reports of Police officers simply threatening people on the Cronulla Line train with arrest if they didn’t hand over their mobile phones to check their text messages.

  9. Re recording car journeys, I don’t have a link to hand, but my understanding is that in NSW at least speed cameras and/or Safe-T Cams (the ones used to take images of heavy vehicles to check if the drivers are spending too long at the wheel) do take an image of every passing vehicle and that this data is kept for some time and has been used as evidence in criminal cases. In particular, an image of a car on the Hume Highway en route from Sydney to Canberra destroyed someone’s alibi in a murder case at some point.
    Whether the licence plates are automatically interpreted and data mined, or whether the footage is only examined in the event of wanting to use it as evidence, I don’t know.

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