Unregistered Opal cards offer anonymous travel

Summary:The New South Wales government today started selling unregistered Opal cards, allowing public transport passengers to travel anonymously.

The New South Wales government has started offering commuters unregistered Opal cards, allowing public transport passengers the option of using the new ticketing system without offering up their personal information.

The Opal contactless card ticketing system began rolling out across Sydney's transport network last year, with the government planning to retire some its paper-based multi-trip tickets from the beginning of September.

The NSW Minister for Transport, Gladys Berejiklian, today announced the release of unregistered Opal cards, with pop-up kiosks appearing at train stations across the city to sell the new cards to commuters, saying that the new cards would offer anonymity to passengers who did not want to share their personal details.

"Customers can now obtain an Opal card and load value on to it at a station and immediately join more than 440,000 people who have access to cheaper and more convenient travel with Sydney's new electronic ticketing system," said Berejiklian. "After a customer has their unregistered Opal card from a kiosk, they can load the card with credit and travel anonymously, which is what some customers want."

However, state transport customers will still be required to use a credit or debit card to when initially purchase an Opal card. A Transport for NSW spokesperson confirmed today that passengers were not able to purchase an Opal card using only cash from the kiosks or other outlets, although cash could be used to top up the cards.

Until now, commuters have had to register their details online in order to obtain a card, offering up their address, an email, and payment information to top up the card. The Opal system can record a commuter's travel history, using it to determine discounts for weekly travel.

Transport New South Wales is able to collect information on the times and locations for where people travel in the state using their Opal card.

In June, ZDNet confirmed that police could access this data without a warrant as part of law enforcement investigations. However, a spokesperson for Transport for NSW said at the time that the agency complies with the law regarding access to personal information.

"Transport for NSW and law enforcement agencies operate under the existing lawful mechanisms for law agencies to access data — using a warrant, subpoena or summons under the Personal Information and Privacy Protection Act 1998," the spokesperson said.

Earlier this month, Transport for New South Wales defended offering access to Opal card traveller data to Australian law enforcement agencies without a warrant. The agency said its privacy policy was also developed with the NSW Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

The new unregistered Opal cards are available from today until the end of September from pop-up kiosks at stations spanning the Sydney transport network from Hornsby to Rockdale, Penrith, and Wynyard.

Topics: Privacy, Australia, Government : AU

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Leon covers enterprise technology and start-ups from ZDNet's Sydney newsroom.

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