BART accused of spying on passengers with new app

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An Albany resident sued BART and a software company in federal court in Oakland today, claiming that a mobile application provided for reporting crimes has been secretly collecting users' private cell phone information and physical locations. (KGO-TV)

An Albany resident sued BART and a software company in federal court in Oakland today, claiming that a mobile application provided for reporting crimes has been secretly collecting users' private cell phone information and physical locations.

The program, known as BART Watch App, is made by ELERTS Corp. of Weymouth, Mass. It was launched by BART in 2014 to enable passengers to report criminal or suspicious activity to BART police.

Between 10,000 and 50,000 people have downloaded the app, according to the lawsuit filed by BART rider Pamela Moreno, who claims she never would have accepted the app if she had known what information was being collected.

The lawsuit alleges that when the app is set up, it collects a user's cellphone identification number, known as International Mobile Equipment Identity number, and other potentially identifying data.

The app is also programmed to periodically transmit the user's precise location, the lawsuit claims. The suit additionally alleges the app's privacy policy "obfuscates" the actual data collection practices.

While BART and ELERTS "represent that the app is a 'discreet' way of reporting issues...the defendants actually programmed the app to secretly collect transit users' unique cellular identifiers, periodically monitor users' locations, and track the identities of anonymous reporters," the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit claims the alleged practices violate the state's Cellular Communications Interception Act, Consumer Legal Remedies Act and constitutional right to privacy.

It asks to have a judge certify the case as a class action on behalf of all passengers who downloaded the app and had their phone's identifying number recorded.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified financial compensation from ELERTS and an injunction against both BART and ELERTS halting the alleged practices.

BART disputed the allegations in a statement by spokesperson Alicia Trost.

"The safety and privacy of our riders are a priority and we want to make clear we are not using ELERTS system for any other purpose than responding to security and safety reports made by our riders," Trost said.

"BART does not use ELERTS system to randomly track users. An app's user location information is available only if the user selects the option to share their location information.

"And then, BART only receives the user's location when the user is reporting an incident," the statement said.

Trost called the app "a very helpful tool for our customers to report security concerns," and said, "We wanted to offer it as another tool to keep our system safe."

ABC7 News reporter Katie Uthes contributed to this report.

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