February 13, 2014

TriMet supporting law that aims to protect rider data

Portland, Ore.-based TriMet is raising concerns about a state law that would require the agency to share personal information about riders and is supporting proposed legislation that would exempt information on customers’ personal travel patterns.

As the transit system implements a new electronic fare payment system that collects personally identifiable information about riders, such as their travel patterns or private financial and account information, under existing Oregon Public Records Law, the transit agency would have to release personal information about riders upon request.

TriMet officials said it supports and complies with the state’s public records law but is supporting proposed legislation to protect its riders’ privacy and some of their personal information from disclosure. House Bill 4086 would exempt customer’s personal travel patterns from public records request law. State Rep. Carolyn Tomei (D-41) is sponsoring the bill now working its way through the Legislature.

“Our concern is that in cases of domestic violence, for example, TriMet would be required to release information related to someone’s travel patterns and we would not be able to protect riders,” said Rep. Tomei. “This may be an extreme example, but it is within the realm of possibility, and this small change in the law will protect the public.”  

At this time, according to TriMet, four other states — Florida, Georgia, Utah and Washington — have passed exemptions in its public records laws related to electronic fare collection.

TriMet’s e-fare system will begin testing in late 2015 and will be fully implemented in 2017. The agency is encouraging the state Legislature to act now on this legislation to coincide with the fare system design phase now underway. Waiting until the 2015 legislative session would increase e-fare design costs, delay the project and could create some customer service difficulties, according to TriMet.

This bill would only amend the public records laws related to disclosure of some personal identifiable information, such as travel patterns related to public transit systems. Some current exemptions in the Public Records Law may provide limited, qualified protection from disclosure of some personally identifiable information, but do not cover all situations.

HB4086 was unanimously approved by the House Judiciary Committee and the bill is headed to the House floor within the next week, according to the transit agency.

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