Supervisor John Avalos hopes to increase privacy controls on Clipper Cards

A San Francisco supervisor is calling for stricter privacy controls for transit riders using Clipper cards to pay their fares on BART, Muni and other Bay Area public transportation systems.

Amid media reports of law enforcement subpoenaing Clipper card data to make an arrest and high-tech mobile applications that can read a card’s travel history, Supervisor John Avalos introduced a resolution Tuesday calling for stricter privacy protections.

“I think it’s important that we actually can make sure that people who are using Clipper cards can actually be protected against any use of information about where they go and what their whereabouts are,” Avalos said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which oversees the Clipper card program, estimates there are about 1 million in use.

Avalos’ resolution urges the MTC to decrease the amount of time a rider’s personal information is retained, which currently is indefinitely or up to seven years after an account is closed; put “stricter limits on the sharing of personally identifiable information with third parties and participating transit agencies,” and enable encrypting data on the cards or allowing riders to the purge the information.

MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler declined to comment on the resolution specifically, but said the agency was sensitive to privacy concerns when launching the cards. He explained that under state law the MTC is required to provide travel information when it’s subpoenaed, which has occurred three times since 2010.

Rentschler said there is no personal information on the cards, but they do retain the history of a rider’s past 10 trips. The data may include someone’s date of birth if he or she applied for a senior discount. He noted that people don’t have to register their cards, which is done to add value to them using a credit card, and instead can remain unknown to the agency.

“You’re anonymous on Day One, unless you change it,” Rentschler said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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