Last week 404 Media published a report by Joseph Cox on how the New York Metropolitan Transit Agency’s website can be used as a remote stalking tool: anyone who knows a credit card number that was used to purchase or add value to an OMNY transit farecard could view a historical log of the last seven days of trips taken using the card, including the dates, times, and locations where the card was read at subway entrances or boarding buses.
Less than 24 hours after this report was published, this “feature” was removed from the MTA website.
But that doesn’t solve the problem.
The main problem with the MTA payment system — and similar systems in other cities — isn’t that anyone could access your trip history by typing in your credit card number (which every waiter you ever bought a meal from with that credit card has access to, and every domestic violence abuser in your household also knows).
The real problem is that the MTA transit system is building a permanent database of all your trips, period. The MTA is still logging transit passengers’ movements, and those logs are still available to the MTA itself, police, anyone the MTA chooses to share them with, or anyone who hacks into the TSA’s records.
If the MTA didn’t collect this data in the first place, there would be no way for anyone to abuse it.