Metrolinx provided customer Presto data to police 12 times in past year

Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for the transit agency, said there were around 26 requests for Presto card data from police in the last year. Revelations about the practice have sparked concern from riders.

Presto card customers don't want 'Big Brother watching' them, says rider advocate

Metrolinx has provided customers' Presto card data to the police a dozen times in the past year, CBC Toronto has confirmed. (CBC)

Metrolinx has provided customers' Presto card data to the police a dozen times in the past year, CBC Toronto has confirmed.

Anne Marie Aikins, spokesperson for the transit agency, said there were around 26 requests for data from police in the last year, confirming numbers first reported by the Toronto Star on Saturday. 

Metrolinx provided "limited travel history information" to police for 12 requests that fit specific criteria, such as a police warrant, a criminal investigation, or circumstances where a person had been reported missing. The agency only started tracking police request data about a year ago.

A Crown agency responsible for transit throughout the Toronto and Hamilton areas, Metrolinx also manages the Presto card electronic fare system. There are currently around three million card holders using the system, which allows riders to "tap" on and off to ride various forms of public transit, including GO Transit and the TTC.

Metrolinx also oversees Presto operations in Ottawa.

Only a customer's "tap history" is provided to police, said Aikins.

"Police might want to find out, were you here in Union Station today when a crime has taken place," she said. "There's no other information we provide to the police."

Jessica Bell, a transit rider advocate with the group TTC Riders, said she's concerned about Saturday's revelation and stressed the importance of privacy for customers. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

Practice met with blowback, privacy concerns

The data sharing, Aikins said, is "absolutely legal."

"We follow the same privacy laws in Canada that other banking institutions and credit card companies follow," she explained.

But the practice is still unsettling for some riders and at least one city councillor. Some say the practice amounts spying and an invasion of privacy for Presto users.

"A check and balance is needed here," tweeted Ward 21 Coun. Joe Mihevc. "Should not a judge vet and approve requests for transit data linked to personal trips?"

Jessica Bell, a transit rider advocate with the group TTC Riders, said she's concerned about Saturday's revelation and stressed the importance of privacy for customers. 

"I don't think any rider out there wants Big Brother watching when they get on the bus," she said.

However, University of Toronto professor Tim Richardson, who specializes in online security and identity theft, said this is a fairly typical kind of data request from police that is often used to corroborate other types of evidence in court, such as a photo of a suspect captured on a CCTV camera.

"I think it's reasonable... innocent people aren't being accused falsely because Presto is passing along their information," he said.

Regardless of the purpose, Bell said Metrolinx should be more open about what they're doing with rider information.

Aikins said when Presto users register their card — which protects the balance in case the card is lost or stolen — they are informed about their data being used.

"But perhaps we can be clearer on that," she said. "We're going to be looking at all of that, and see if there is a way we can communicate more clearly with our customers."