Prague could see five million crown fine over Opencard system

Prague’s Opencard, a multi-functional chip card system introduced by Prague City Hall, has long been the subject of controversy. Overshadowed by allegations of corruption, the system was widely seen as overpriced. Now, it has taken another hit: this week the Office for Personal Data Protection warned the city needed to introduce changes or face a five million crown fine for the poor handling of personal data.

Next year, any Prague resident wishing to acquire a monthly, three-monthly or year-long ticket on the city’s public transport system will have no choice but to opt for an Opencard. The system was introduced several years ago, streamlining services including parking in the capital, borrowing books at the public library or taking the metro. Not all are happy about the change – preferring earlier monthly paper tickets phased out recently – and have made their discontent known on social networks such as Facebook.

More seriously for City Hall, the system this week was dealt an additional blow, when the Office for Personal Data Protection said that it had breached the law on personal data protection – a mistake which could land them a five million crown fine. A little earlier I spoke to Igor Němec, the head of the data protection office.

“The City of Prague made mistakes first, by not adequately informing the public how their personal information would be stored and used and second by requiring a signature, which in this kind of transaction is completely unnecessary. Under the law, personal information is not ‘sensitive’ by definition, but it still can be abused, for example, for marketing purposes. The situation is especially serious when you consider the database has around 600,000 users.”

Photo: CTK
Martin Opatrný the spokesman for the Opencard project, has come to its defence; he acknowledges there are a number of contentious points in the system that need to be ironed out.

“First of all, there is no question about the project’s overall ‘legality’. It got the green light from the Office for Personal Data Protection as well as from – in unofficial meetings –the European Commission. So there is no question about that. There are some points which need to be discussed with the data protection office, namely our retaining of personal data even after a card has expired. We are willing to discuss this point to find a solution.”

Possible fixes could include a wiping of information or changing the amount of personal data involved. The Office for Personal Data Protection, however, sees the crux of the problem elsewhere; the office’s head Igor Němec again:

Igor Němec
“City Hall can fix the situation – and representatives have already agreed with this – by making better available an alternative: an anonymous and rechargeable card which owners can use as a public transport pass. The idea is that members of the public will have a choice, either between the original Opencard or an anonymous alternative. That would be a solution.”

In fact, the anonymous card Mr Němec describes already exists but it’s important to point out, offers fewer services. It does act as a public transport pass and can be charged according to monthly, three-monthly or year-long tickets. But, since it can also be passed on to friends or members of family, it is also more expensive. And, because its anonymous, there’s no refund on the card should you happen to lose it.