Brisbane Times

July 29, 2010 - 1:58PM

Police have defended having access to commuters' movements through Go Card data, despite admitting information gathered so far had not solved a single investigation.

Police Chief Superintendent Mike Condon said the technology was necessary to make the community safe and critics were being "alarmist".

Queensland Police has been forced to defend its use of Go Card technology after exclusively revealed this morning that police were using commuter records to not only pinpoint the movements of criminal suspects but also potential witnesses.

One woman has told she was contacted last month as part of a murder probe after police tracked her down via her Go Card, which is registered with her details by TransLink.

"There seems to be some suggestion that it's quite sinister, when we have been quite open about it," Superintendent Condon said.

"The community should support the fact that these technologies are helping to make the community a safer place."

Two-thirds of the more than 1200 readers who had responded to a poll by 1.30pm today said they were concerned about the privacy of Go Card users.

At least three people have contacted TransLink today specifically to inquire about access to their Go Card records, a TransLink spokesman said.

He was not aware of any commuters deregistering their Go Card, which would cut off police access to their public transport movements without possession of their card.

Police have made 46 applications to TransLink in the past 12 months for commuters' private movements on Brisbane's public transport system, including buses, trains and ferries.

Superintendent Condon said he understood all applications had been granted.

The information was used in a variety of investigations, including missing persons searches and crimes such as murder.

However, none had been solved.

"Those operations or investigations are ongoing," Superintendent Condon said.

Police can make a written application for the Go Card information under an exemption to the Information Privacy Act 2009 (Chapter 29).

Mr Condon "absolutely" guaranteed the private information would be safeguarded and said commuters had "nothing to fear".

However, he confirmed the Go Card details could become publicly available during related court proceedings.

Although suspected witnesses tracked down using the Go Card technology were not compelled to give a statement, they could be subpoenaed to attend court and their public transport movements could be disclosed.

"Depending on the type of investigation, eventually the defence would be made aware of the information we've seized if it's relevant to the trial and then you've got the open court and the public process ... so eventually it may fall into the realm where the community would become aware," Superintendent Condon said.

He said police access to Go Card records was not widespread and officers must follow a "strict process" that included satisfying a threshold to receive the information.

"I think it needs to be put into perspective here," Superintendent Condon said.

"The facts are that the community expects the police to carry out the functions of their duties. Part of those functions are to investigate serious crime and to use whatever lawful methodologies are available to us to bring those responsible for those crimes to justice, and that's what we do, and I'm quite sure that the community would support that."

The Go Card tracking device is among a string of new technologies being used in police investigations.

"We are using any technology that we can access lawfully," Superintendent Condon said.

"We live in a world of developing technology and as we progress through that process we have found as investigators, as I no doubt law enforcement agencies across the world have, that the advent in the advancements in technology have greatly assisted agencies globally in carrying out their responsibilities."