Travel Without Tracking: Employer Access to ORCA Info Restricted

News Release: 
Thursday, January 7, 2010

After months of advocacy, the ACLU scored another win for privacy, this time with a new regional transit card. As with the Enhanced Driver’s License, we worked to limit the potential for tracking and monitoring of individuals without their knowledge.

Planned for 2009, the ORCA card system (One Regional Card for All) will allow riders seamlessly to use many forms of public transportation in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties. To facilitate fare payments, the ORCA system will record the date, time and route number when a person uses the card to pay for a bus, train or ferry.

In researching hundreds of documents obtained through public disclosure requests, our Technology and Liberty Project learned that transit agencies planned to collect and keep the travel information linked to each card – information that potentially could end up in divorce and custody cases and other legal proceedings. The ACLU also found that travel information would be available to schools and employers subsidizing transit passes. This would have allowed card holders to be tracked as they use public transit to go to work, church, shop or participate in political rallies.

After meetings with and testimony by the ACLU, transit officials responded in June to our privacy concerns by taking steps to ensure that organizations subsidizing transit passes will not be able to view individual transaction records through detailed reports on the Web. The information will be available, though, by requests made under the state’s Public Records Act.