Sydney Opal card travel history can be accessed by police

Customer information and travel history on registered Opal cards can be accessed by New South Wales police, the Transport for NSW has confirmed.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Travel and customer information recorded as part of the new smart ticketing system for New South Wales transport could be used by police as part of criminal investigations, the New South Wales Department of Transport has confirmed.

The Opal smart card ticketing system began rolling out on Sydney transport last year, with the service expected to be available across all trains, ferries and buses later this year. Last week, NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said that there were 340,000 Opal cards issued for more than 20 million journeys using the cards.

From September 1, the government will start to retire some of the multi-trip cards, including weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly tickets to encourage commuters to switch to the Opal card.

Initially, to obtain an Opal card, commuters had to sign up an account on the Opal website with their address, an email, and payment information to top up the card.

Opal also records a commuter's travel history, which is used to determine what discounts apply for weekly travel.

Although the card itself doesn't record this information, Transport New South Wales is collecting a wealth of information on the times and locations for where people travel in the state using their Opal card. This information could ultimately be used for the investigation of a crime where a person's location at the time of a crime may be required.

A spokesperson for Transport for NSW said 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.

"Opal's Privacy Policy has been developed in accordance with the Personal Information and Privacy Protection Act 1998."

Not all information may be handed out via warrant, however, with police having the power in some instances for accessing the travel history if there is reasonable evidence that an offence has occurred.

The spokesperson said that customers who wish to opt out of being tracked will have the option of travelling anonymously with an unregistered card "in the coming months."

"Customers who want to travel anonymously will be able to do so by obtaining unregistered Opal cards using cash and adding value using cash. Opal cards will be made available in the coming months through retail stores and at pop-up kiosks."

NSW Police had been approached for comment, but had not responded at the time of writing.

It comes as the Federal Government has delayed a decision on the implementation of any new mandatory data retention regime for telecommunications companies as it plans to introduce new legislation boosting the powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

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