TransLink Should Review Policy on Info Sharing with Police, Says Privacy Advocate

‘How do we as a public understand that these systems are not being abused?’

By Seher Asaf 10 Aug 2017 |

Seher Asaf is completing a practicum at The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter @seher_a1.

A B.C. privacy advocate is calling for TransLink to exercise greater discretion in what information it shares with law enforcement agencies after a Tyee investigation revealed the transit authority is handing over riders’ personal data to police without requiring a warrant.

Though the information sharing is lawful, it still concerns Micheal Vonn, policy director for the B.C Civil Liberties Association.

“How do we as a public understand that these systems are not being abused? We understand that through accountability mechanisms, the gold standard of which is the warrant process,” Vonn said.

A recent Tyee story based on FOI documents revealed that TransLink routinely provides law enforcement agencies with transit user information, including travel history.

In 2017, the documents show that TransLink received 132 requests from such agencies for information on transit users. The authority has granted 82 of those requests. The documents also show that the amount of information being shared has jumped dramatically in the last two years.

TransLink has disclosed information such as the name, phone number and travel history of individuals using registered Compass cards. The information is stored in TransLink’s online database.

If transit users want to protect their personal information, Vonn said that they should forego registering their Compass cards online and opt for paying with cash instead.

Vonn said that while there are permissive provisions in the public sector privacy information act that permit public bodies like TransLink to share information with law enforcement, allowing the transit authority to make such decisions in the first place is problematic.

TransLink should only disclose information under a court order or when someone’s safety is in question, according to Vonn.

“Where you have an arm of government, in this case a transit authority exercising its own discretion in relation to personal information that is part of, in some cases a criminal investigation, you are butting up against people’s constitutional rights,” Vonn said.

Vonn believes that TransLink should follow in the footsteps of Ontario’s transportation agency Metrolink and review its policy on personal information disclosure. Metrolink is undertaking a review of its privacy policies after coming under scrutiny from advocates.

“Metrolink in Ontario suffered the same concerns and criticisms, and has undertaken a review of [its] policy. We certainly will be very keen to see TransLink do that,” Vonn said.  [Tyee]

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