How I went dark in Australia’s public transport surveillance state for 2 years

Mar 19, 2018 by

They called me the nameless one, the ghost who commutes, the silent passenger who refused to get an Opal transport card.

by Claire Reilly –

August 1, The day I’d been dreading. Sydney had finally abolished paper train tickets and I was getting ready to erase my identity.

The Australian state of New South Wales had been gradually transitioning away from paper tickets for more than two years. In the interests of entering the digital era, Transport NSW introduced the new ‘tap-on, tap-off’ Opal card. A contactless travel card, named after Australia’s distinctive rainbow-hued Opal gemstone, it’s similar to London’s Oyster card and San Francisco’s Clipper.

Welcome to the future! No more paper tickets! Top up your Opal card online! Set up a direct debit, download the accompanying app and track your spending, you mouth-breathing luddite — this is the 21st century!

But if this was my ticket to the future, I was not on board.

I’m not against going digital. I have an email account. I use internet banking. I have even foregone my family’s tradition of using a cool, damp sack to store milk in favor of putting it in the “refrigerator.”

But in the context of an increasingly pervasive culture of state-sanctioned digital surveillance in Australia and across the world, this smart card smarted.

Surveillance state

In 2015, during the transition from paper to Opal, Australia passed sweeping new data retention laws. These laws required all Australian internet service providers and telecommunications carriers to retain customers’ phone and internet metadata for two years — details like the phone number a person calls, the timestamps on text messages or the cell tower a phone pings when it makes a call.

Suddenly, Australians were fighting for the right to stay anonymous in a digital world.

On one side of the fence: safety-conscious civilians. They argued that this metadata was a powerful tool and that the ability to track a person’s movements through phone pings or call times was vital for law enforcement.

On the other side of the fence: digital civil libertarians. They argued that the data retention scheme was invasive and that this metadata could be used to build up an incredibly detailed picture of someone’s life.

And sitting in a barn two paddocks away from that fence: me, switching out burner phones and researching VPNs.

When it emerged that police had the power to search Opal card data, track people’s movements and match this to individual users, it was the last straw. August 2016 rolled around, paperless tickets were phased out and I hatched my plan.

The Black Opal.

Watch this: Here be monsters: A guide to the dark web
2:35

But as long as I’m carrying my Black Opal, there’s that little shred of liberty. If this the hill I die on, at least you’ll never know how I got here.

Continue: How I went dark in Australia’s public transport surveillance state for 2 years – CNET

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.