NEW YORK - With the MTA's OMNY payment system for New York City subways and buses about to complete its takeover next year, making the MetroCard a thing of the past, the technical upgrade in our lives to a real-time system tracking our every commuting move has some civil rights and privacy groups sounding the alarm that our freedom is at risk.
For decades, the MTA has been sharing information with the NYPD when investigators need clues on a suspect's identity or for help on a case. MetroCard information has been used in cases from tracking a suspect's movements to proving or disproving alibis.
While prepaid OMNY cards will be available, the flow of information between the MTA and outside agencies is what critics are worried about. For instance, allowing ICE agents to access the system.
"We can't claim to be a sanctuary city and have protections for those targeted by ICE and still have no clear protections on how this data is flowing," Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the civil rights and privacy group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. "There's so much risk for abuse, whether it's tracking New Yorkers for their political beliefs, tracking them for their religion, or tracking anyone else who falls into disfavor."
While there's been no public disclosure of MetroCard information ever being misused, one police source told FOX 5 NY that the proliferation of fare evasion means an increasing number of suspects wanted by police never pay to enter the system to begin with. The suspects are often seen jumping the turnstiles in the various videos that police release.
The MTA said riders can purchase OMNY cards with cash and do not have to disclose any private information at all. Selling data to third parties is not permitted and location information collected when straphangers tap in is not shared with credit card companies, the MTA added.