Israeli Activists Fear Bus Passes May Infringe on Human Rights

Transportation Ministry has compiled a huge, unmonitored database on Israeli citizens, which appears to be far less secure than anything put together by the Interior Ministry.

Human rights activists and government officials are concerned that public transportation ticket packages could potentially infringe on the privacy of passengers. The tickets in question are the Rav-Kav passes used for a variety of public transport purposes.

This possible privacy infringement constitutes an ironic twist, since in recent years the focus of human rights concerns about privacy has been on biometric data banks compiled by the Interior Ministry, along with proposals to issue biometric identity cards. Meantime, away from the spotlight, the Transportation Ministry has compiled a huge, unmonitored database about citizens - which appears to be far less secure than anything put together by the Interior Ministry.

Rav-Kav card
Tali Mayer

In order to receive the Rav-Kav passes, passengers need to furnish personal information including age, identity card number, place of residence and other data. They also provide a digital photograph. Passengers such as students or senior citizens who want special discounts have to relay additional information such as the name of a school, or National Insurance Institute arrangements.

The Transportation Ministry data base also stores potentially compromising information about citizens' travel routines.

Attorney Avner Pinchuk, who heads the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI ) privacy and information division, says that the state has given a green light to a request made by transportation contractors, enabling them to monitor routes chosen by each passenger, and railroad and bus stations at which passengers start and finish journeys. A passengers' journey record remains in this data base for seven years. The extent to which such information is secure remains unclear.

Pinchuk says that the Transportation Ministry has ignored requests made by Knesset members, asking that it furnish guidelines for the protection of privacy rights of passengers who purchase Rav-Kav passes. Up to now, more than half a million Rav-Kav passes have been issued.

Knesset members say that this transportation option has been mass marketed in the absence of parliamentary authorization regarding the protection of passengers' privacy. The MKs and human rights activists also claim that much of the personal data required under the Rav-Kav program does not really need to be disclosed.

In theory, passengers have the right to purchase "anonymous ticket" options in the Rav-Kav framework, which allow the use of the public transport option without disclosing personal data. But Pinchuk says that most venues which issue the Rav-Kav passes do not provide the anonymous ticket option.

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