Metro, Paris, privacy

It will cost more to ride the Metro incognito

Photo: phverant / Flickr

  • The new “Discovery” version of the Navigo card, which guarantees the confidentiality of its user’s movements, will be available for an additional five euros.
  • Privacy activists are protesting this surcharge.

Olivier LEVARD

Translated by Angus B. GRIEVE-SMITH

“Why pay more to take advantage of a fundamental right?” demands the organization Privacy International. A new version of the Navigo card that will allow public transit passengers in the Ile-de-France region to travel anonymously starting September first will cost its users five euros more, according to a source close to the agency. The reason given is that unlike with the classic Navigo card, the STIF (the public company charged with organizing public transports in the Ile-de-France) will not be required to pay the card’s distribution costs. Dubbed the “Passe découverte” or “Discovery card,” this contactless computerized card will not contain any of the traveler’s personal information, because the validation will not be connected to an identification number. (See sidebar.)

When contacted by, a representative of the privacy defense organization Privacy International was not ready to cheer. “It’s taken us six years to get this. This is not a victory. It’s a natural, normal step to take.” He was particularly stunned by the surcharge connected with the choice of pass. “Citizens are being forced to make a financial choice in order to exercise a fundamental right!”

Freedom to come and go

Even so, this all comes from good intentions. It is in response to a request from the CNIL (National Commission for Technology and Freedom) that the Navigo card respect “the freedom to come and go unhindered and anonymously” that the STIF announced that it will launch an anonymous card at the beginning of the school year, when the Navigo card is set to permanently replace the Carte Orange.

In fact, the CNIL has expressed its satisfaction at the announcement, although without much enthousiasm. “Although the Commission regrets that this anonymous Navigo card has been introduced so late and with an added charge, it can only applaud the implementation of its own recommendations.” Florence Fourets, government and public relations director for the Commission, confirmed to that she “did not see the logic in” this surcharge.

Big Brother Awards

Privacy International, which fights against the surveillance of transit users, regularly skewers the RATP and its Navigo card. This organization, founded in London in 1990 to “raise awareness about the erosion of private life and about new technologies for the surveillance of individuals,” in its 2001 Big Brother Awards bestowed a very ironic Orwell Trophy (an allusion to the author of 1984) on the authority. It was renominated in 2002 and 2004, with the mention that it was a “frequent offender with its Navigo card.”

Attracted by the contactless system, which allows passengers to move through the gates more than four times faster than with a magnetic ticket, the RATP gradually expanded the system to the point where two million passengers were using it, this past May. “Originally, this pass was designed to be completely traceable” the organization explained. “We had to fight to change it so that the RATP did not consider people’s personal information to be its permanent property. We believe that it belongs only to the individual, like a body part.”

“Totalitarian Society”

These privacy defenders have concrete fears. “We can easily imagine fun applications like, for example, comparing different groups of people traveling to different meeting points for manifestations and extracting the troublemakers.” The CNIL, which has allowed the RATP to keep travel records for 48 hours, explains that these limited archives are aimed at fighting fraud. “Knowing for example that one pass has been used at the same second at two separate stations,” says Florence Fourets.

Could the kind of sensitive information described above be collected in the name of “fighting fraud”? The RATP and the STIF have not responded to these questions at press time. “This is a short-sighted point of view,” says Privacy International, which demands that no information connected with Navigo card use be stored on servers for any reason. “A society without fraud is a totalitarian society.”

Practical information about the new “Discovery” card

The new card will be linked to a transport ID with a photograph of the user and his or her full name. The card and the transport ID are required to be presented together when requested by an inspection officer. In essence, the “Discovery” card will function like the old Carte Orange combined with its ticket, except that in this case the card will replace the ticket.

The new card will be sold in SNCF and RATP stations beginning on September 1. It will be available to all holders of monthly and weekly Carte Orange passes. Until now, for the current Navigo cards, the validation data (date, hour and place of use) are associated with the pass numbers for48 hours.

Original: Prendre le métro incognito coûtera plus cher, Olivier LEVARD,, August 9, 2007.

grvsmth (Author)

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