BART sued for alleged collection of private cellphone data

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An Albany resident filed a lawsuit Monday against San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District and private software developer ELERTS for alleged collection of private cellphone data.

Pamela Moreno, the plaintiff, downloaded the mobile application BART Watch last year, and used it to document security issues while using BART. The lawsuit states that at the time she was unaware of the data collection processes of the application. The lawsuit also states the privacy information for the mobile application is unclear.

The app allows users to report disruptive behavior, robbery, unattended bags and vandalism in real time, according to the website. By opening BART Watch, users can upload photographs and send text descriptions directly to the BART police.

The allegations, the lawsuit states, are based on the “clandestine collection of private cellphone identifiers” and the lawsuit alleges that the application, which is intended to keep BART riders safe, has been collecting cellphone identification numbers and periodically checking their precise locations.

The collection of cellphones’ individual numeric identifiers and physical location information presents major policy concerns for legislature, according to the lawsuit, because the collection of the data not only affects a specific individual under investigation, but can also affect all cellphone users in the vicinity of the mobile device.

According to the complaint released by Pamela Moreno’s lawyer, Nina Eisenberg, the putative class action seeks to stop the collection of personal cellular identifiers, including locations. The suit also compels the defendants to purge the records already in existence, alleging that this application violates the right of privacy afforded to California residents by the California Constitution.

Private information, according to the ELERTS Privacy Policy, is considered nonpersonal information if it is voluntarily given. The policy reads that the app may use various technologies to determine the location of its user, including browser and sensor data from their device. Information is collected, according to the policy, through “automated mechanisms.”

BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said in a statement in response to the allegations, “BART does not use ELERTS system to randomly track users. An app’s user location information is only available if the user selects the option to share their location information.”

Despite the statement released by BART, local BART commuters expressed concern at the possibility their private information may be monitored by the BART Police.

Michelle Nguyen, a Berkeley resident and regular BART commuter, said she felt uneasy about the allegations made toward BART Watch. Nguyen added she believes she is already being tracked by various online sites.

“I don’t need anyone else following my every move,” Nguyen said.

Brooke Thornton, a student at Berkeley City College who uses BART frequently, also expressed that she did not want the BART Police tracking her location, and does not plan on downloading the app.

Contact Janesse Henke at [email protected]