Unregistered Opal cards offer anonymous travel

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, Government AU, Australia

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  • Not anonymous!

    "However, state transport customers will still be required to use a credit or debit card to when initially purchase an Opal card.". This creates a simple audit trail to the unique identifier of the card, thus this is not anonymous at all.
    James Beattie
  • Third-party retailers?

    So there's still no mention of when Opal cards will be available at the local 7-11?

    I can understand why they're not accepting cash at the pop-up stalls; it makes security et al much easier, but they could avoid that with no problem if they would just sell the things at ticket windows or normal stores.

    That said, I really want to play with the new shinies, so I'm probably going to end up buying one at a pop-up kiosk. Still going to use a prepaid credit card though, just because I've held out for this long over anonymity, may as well do it right.
  • More generally, is anonymous travel really a good thing?

    Think of the current Ebola crisis in Western Africa, the recent MERS crisis in the Middle-East and the relatively recent SARS crisis.

    Anonymous travel could make getting the upper hand on an infectious disease crisis impossible.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Because the constant surveillance of everyone is necessary 'just in case'

      "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." - Benjamin Franklin

      Someone should purchase 10,000 of these cards and then resell them. Still far from perfect anonymity but better than nothing.

      Even if they allow you to buy these with cash, if they closely control the distribution points they can use video surveillance to track all purchases, so it would be false anonymity unless you are extremely cautious. Only cash purchases from diverse distribution points operated by private businesses will even approach anonymity.

      Although if you're carrying a mobile phone you are misleading yourself if you think your movements are in any way 'anonymous' - forget law enforcement, government employees of nearly any rank can access your mobile phone location records simply by asking for them.
  • prepaid debit cards

    is there anything to stop you using a $100 prepaid card from the service station or post office?