Transport for NSW defends warrantless police access to Opal data

Providing police access to Opal card data without a warrant only happens as part of law enforcement, according to Transport for New South Wales.

Transport for New South Wales has defended offering access to Opal card traveller data to Australian law enforcement agencies without a warrant.

Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet

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 month, 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 paper-based multi-trip tickets, 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.

ZDNet confirmed last month that police can access this data without a warrant as part of law enforcement investigations, and today in reaction to other media reporting on the issue, Transport for New South Wales defended the practice.

"Customers can be assured Transport for NSW may only disclose information to a law enforcement agency that is necessary for law enforcement purposes, for the investigation of an offence, for the enforcement of criminal law or to assist in locating a missing person," the agency said.

"Protecting people's privacy is very important but if in some situations police need this data to help solve crime and protect the public then there is a responsibility to provide it.

"This is consistent with other electronic ticketing systems."

Transport for New South Wales confirmed that since the launch of the Opal card system, police had yet to request any data from the department.

As previously reported, Transport for New South Wales has said that concerned customers can opt to buy an unregistered Opal card in a few months time from retailers and load it with cash to avoid any personal data being stored on the card.

The agency said its privacy policy was also developed with the NSW Office of the Privacy Commissioner.