BART Watch’s opaque data practices are especially alarming in light of one of its key purposes – to solicit information about “suspicious” and “disruptive behavior” from users. The use of such vague terms raises the risk that government records will be created about innocent residents, including panhandlers and protestors. Recognizing the serious privacy and free speech concerns raised by suspicious activity reporting, the ACLU sued the federal government in June over its controversial program of the same name. While we have no reason to believe the BART Watch app is connected to that federal program, this app’s shady reporting criteria gives us pause.
Matt Cagle is a Policy Fellow with the ACLU of Northern California’s Technology and Civil Liberties Project.