Oyster Card data use by the Police

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The BBC have a report about how the Police are increasingly using the unique serial number identifier built into the by now familiar Oyster Card travel smartcard, for criminal investigations.

via Martin Stabe:

BBC Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 08:14 GMT

Oyster data is 'new police tool'

Police are increasingly turning to Oyster travel cards to track criminals' movements, according to new figures.

The smartcards, used by five million Londoners, record details of each bus, Tube or train journey made by the holder over the previous eight weeks.

In January, police requested journey information 61 times, compared with just seven times in the whole of 2004.

The Metropolitan Police said it was a "straightforward investigative tool" used on a case-by-case basis.

In total, 229 of the 243 requests made by police to access records were granted, the figures disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act show.


A Transport for London spokesman said: "Very few authorised individuals can access this data and there is no bulk disclosure of personal data to third parties for any commercial purposes."

He added that police requests are made under Association of Chief Police Officers' guidance and disclosed in accordance with the Data Protection Act.

A single "request" could cover all the uses of all the Oyster Cards at a specific station for a specific time period.

Remember that the Oyster Card itself stores the travel / payment history for the last few transactions (up to the capacity of the memory on the chip), but that Transport for London have the entire history of any particular Oyster Card on their centralised database systems.

Note that this statement by Transport for London does not preclude bulk transfers and "fishing expeditions" for "national security" or for "the prevention and detection of crime" loopholes in the Data Protection Act.

Similarly, there is no mention of the combination of CCTV surveillance and Oyster Card monitoring of millions of innocent people, rather than just the minority of criminals who are under specific criminal investigation.


This is yet another disturbing development for those of us who believe in individual liberty. It is possible to use an unregistered Oyster card, although registered cards are needed to buy longer-term travelcards. Also, it would not be too difficult to identify an unregistered card with a particular person if CCTV was used.

Recently, I read a report that Britain is in the process of becoming the first country to track every car journey using the cameras pioneered in congestion charging. The problem is that the infrastructure required for a totalitarian state is being gradually created. At the moment the only political dissidents being systematically persecuted are radical Moslems and national socialists. However, in time the net could be widened to other groups that object to New Labour style international socialism.

@ Richard - the National Automatic Number Plate Recogination Database is meant to start operations this April.

The plan is to retain data on all innocent road users for two or six years or longer


Why not just buy, and use, the Oyster card anonymously with cash? You can top it up the same way - no problem!

This is a copy of the complaint I have logged with the Advertising Standards Authority.

In what is an obvious attempt to speed up the adoption rate, Transport for London in their advertising advocate that using Oyster is ‘Faster, Smarter and Cheaper’. In its two variants the Pre-paid option has proved difficult to use, confusing to the user and in relation to the One Day Travel card can prove extremely costly, as it cannot be used for overground travel on national rail services. I feel this message is misleading and therefore should be withdrawn.

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