Brisbane public transit’s potential use of biometrics raises privacy concerns

A privacy group has spoken out against recommendations that the Brisbane public transportation service use biometrics to identify passengers when they purchase their fare, according to a report by CIO.

Cubic Transportation Systems, the US firm that operates Queensland’s Go Card system for TransLink as well as developed London’s Oyster card technology, is running proof of concept trials of facial recognition, palm vein scanning and object tracking in its London lab in order to reduce queues.

The Australian Privacy Foundation last week issued a statement on the potential biometric scanning of Brisbane passengers, 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 Liam Pomfret, a spokesperson for the Australian Privacy Foundation. “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 is developing biometric ‘gateless gateline prototype system’ which is designed to 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. “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.”

Partially funded by a grant from the UK’s Railway Standards and Safety Board, the proof of concept for the fast-track entry system is designed to meet the 200 percent surge in the number of passenger rail journeys forecasted over the next 30 years, Cubic said.

Cubic is competing to win a tender to revamp the Go Card system which is set to include ‘account-based automated fare collection’.

The winning system is expected to work with payment cards, smartphones, and wearables, as well as Go Card-type smartcards.

Although the biometric function has not yet been explicitly proposed by any bidder, the Australian Privacy Foundation wanted to emphasize its disapproval for the use of such technology.

“The Queensland Government needs to walk the talk about its respect for privacy,” said 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 recently exhibited its solutions at the Australian Intelligent Transport Systems Summit in Brisbane.

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