Privacy group balks at Brisbane transport biometrics

By George Nott October 04, 2017

A privacy group has strongly condemned suggestions that Brisbane public transport users could be biometrically scanned to pay their fare.

A privacy group has strongly condemned suggestions that Brisbane public transport users could be biometrically scanned to pay their fare.

Cubic Transportation, which operates Queensland’s Go Card system for TransLink, is running proof of concept trials of palm vein scanning and facial recognition in its London lab.

The Australian Privacy Foundation last week issued a statement on the potential scanning of Brisbane travellers, calling it “a danger to civil rights and privacy”.

“This is an extension of CensusFail, CentrelinkFail and MyHRFail – badly-planned and badly administered big ticket technology projects whose managers and ministers failed to heed warnings,” said group spokesperson Liam Pomfret. “The Foundation asks the Queensland Government to immediately launch a proper public consultation and conduct a privacy impact assessment about the collection and use of biometrics on the state’s public transport system.”

Cubic – which also operates Sydney’s Opal card sytem and London’s Oyster card system – is developing biometric ‘gateless gateline prototype system’ which it says can support a “doubled rate of passenger throughput”.

“The ability to scale biometric technology in mass transit is a key element in enabling a seamless experience in fare vending, validation and revenue collection,” said Cubic research and development engineer Niosha Kayhani, in August.

“It allows our customers to provide their riders with the option to register with the system and provide tailored and improved services for passengers, while collecting advanced data to prevent revenue loss through fare evasion.”

The current proof of concept is partially funded by a grant from the UK’s Railway Standards and Safety Board. The fast-track entry system is designed to meet a projected doubling in the number of passenger rail journeys over the next 30 years, Cubic said.

The company is currently vying to win a tender to overhaul the Go Card system which is to include ‘account-based automated fare collection’.

The system, regardless of the tender's winner, is expected to be compatible with payment cards, smartphones, and wearables, as well as Go Card-type smartcards.

A biometric function has not been specifically proposed at this stage by any tender bidder. The Australian Privacy Foundation was nevertheless compelled to speak out.

“The Queensland Government needs to walk the talk about its respect for privacy,” added foundation spokesperson Justin Clacherty. “Why is such an invasive technology being established without consultation? Why is the Government engaging in policy by headline rather than through sensible discussion with stakeholders?”

Cubic exhibited its solutions at the Australian Intelligent Transport Systems Summit in Brisbane at the weekend.

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