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​NSW Police 'makes no apologies' for collecting Opal Card data

As NSW Opal Card users face having their movements tracked by police without a warrant, the NSW Police Commissioner has defended the practice.

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Opal is watching you... Transport NSW

Commuters in NSW could soon find their movements across Sydney's train and ferry network being tracked with news that police will have access to electronic travel history information of the state's Opal Card users.

CNET's partner site ZDNet last month revealed that Transport NSW is collecting data on Opal Card users, including where they are travelling and when, and that this information could potentially be used by police to investigate crime. However, it was also revealed that NSW Police would be able to access information on users' travel history with a warrant.

Transport NSW has now defended the practice, saying that it "may only disclose information to a law enforcement agency that is necessary for law enforcement purposes, for the investigation of an offence, for the enforcement of criminal law or to assist in locating a missing person".

In a statement released yesterday, two weeks after the initial reports, the state department said the Opal Card Privacy Policy was "written in plain English to make it clear that Transport for NSW may disclose information under certain strict rules". It also confirmed that police had not requested an Opal data to date.

"Protecting people's privacy is very important but if in some situations police need this data to help solve crime and protect the public then there is a responsibility to provide it," Transport NSW said.

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has now joined Transport NSW to defend its access to the data. Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Commissioner Scipione said he made "no apologies" for lawful data retention, according to Fairfax Media reports.

"For the NSW Police force to go to the point where we seek information in regards to travel movements we would only do it if it was for a legitimate, law enforcement purpose, no other reason," he said.

"I make no apologies for actually saying we would access lawfully anything that we could get that would assist my force and this organisation from either stopping a crime from happening, catching somebody that's committed a crime or looking at adding to the safety and security of a community."

Transport NSW has said the ability to track users' travel was "consistent with other electronic ticketing systems" and that commuters could effectively stay out of the data collection net and "travel anonymously" by using an unregistered Opal card and topping up its value with cash, rather than a credit card.

However, speaking to Fairfax Media, NSW Greens MP and justice spokesman David Shoebridge said that this system would not be truly anonymous, as law enforcement could use surveillance cameras to match unregistered cards to individuals.

"The Opal card sign-up process requires the giving of what is called a 'bundled consent', which commits users of the card to the broad disclosure of their information under the Opal privacy policy," Shoebridge told Fairfax.

"Given the Opal card is increasingly the only practical public transport ticketing option, and there is no ability to opt-out of this privacy requirement, this consent can't be seen as voluntary."