Clipper Card May Enable Government Spying

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Coba, Flickr
    If you rode a BART train because of the Bay Bridge shutdown, you ride might have looked something like this.

    Wherever you go, there you are -- and Clipper may be watching.

    The new region-wide transit card is pretty convenient, but privacy advocates are suspicious of the technology. In exchange for passing easily from BART to Muni to AC Transit, riders are transmitting their precise location and travel history to those agencies. The information is managed by a company called Cubic.

    Currently, nearly half of Muni riders have a monthly pass on their Clipper cards. You can opt to get a temporary card that doesn't have any of your identifying details, but if you lose it, there's no way to recover the balance. 

    According to a representative from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which represents Bar Area transit agencies, riders' personal details will be closely protected. Information about an individual's travel itinerary will only be released if there's a law enforcement subpoena.

    But that still has some people worried. Senator Joe Simitian of Palo Alto authored legislation to protect the identity of toll-booth customers, and he wants to extend the same protection to transit riders. The MTC has said that it will eventually extend FastTrak-level security to the Clipper card, but it's not there yet.

    Privacy experts recommend that Clipper begin encrypting its data, to guard against theft.