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Law enforcement requests for transit riders’ Presto details rose 64 per cent last year

Law enforcement requests for transit riders’ Presto details rose 64 per cent last year
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Law enforcement requests for transit riders’ Presto information increased by 64 per cent last year compared to the year before, according to a new Metrolinx report.

The provincial agency, which oversees the Presto fare-card system used on the TTC, GO Transit and nine other Ontario transit systems, received 154 formal requests for riders’ card information from law enforcement agencies in 2019. Metrolinx provided information in response to 37 per cent of those requests, roughly the same portion as in 2018.

While the volume of requests has substantially increased, the report notes the number of Presto cards in use also rose last year, by 41 per cent. There are now more than 4.2 million cards in circulation.

Metrolinx committed in 2017 to issue annual reports about Presto requests, following a Star story that revealed the agency had been quietly sharing riders’ card information with police.

Agency spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said that since then they’ve instituted more stringent policies.

“We feel it’s a strong enough system in place that it protects people’s privacy and ensures everyone stays safe,” while also making sure Metrolinx doesn’t impede a lawful investigation, she said.

Metrolinx requires agencies to fill out forms that ask why the Presto information is required and what it will be used for. The agency’s privacy office reviews each form before any information is disclosed. The process applies to outside law enforcement agencies as well as Metrolinx’s own transit officers.

Aikins said the process is thorough enough that some agencies will make an initial request but then drop it when they realize what is involved.

“It isn’t an easy thing to do. They can’t just phone us and ask for information,” she said.

According to the report, Metrolinx generally requires a court order if the investigation relates to a crime or other incident that didn’t take place on a member transit system. For incidents that occurred on a transit system, the agency generally doesn’t ask for a court order.

Aikins defended that policy.

“There’s additional layers of oversight we put in place that we think protects people’s privacy,” she said.

The most common type of Presto information Metrolinx shares is a person’s travel history. If the customer has registered their card, the agency also has access to personal information including the rider’s name, address, phone number, email and truncated financial information.

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Requests for Presto data last year came from a variety of agencies, including Metrolinx and Mississauga transit officers, McMaster University special constables, the RCMP, the OPP, and police forces in Toronto, Hamilton, York Region, Ottawa and New York.
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